Directed by: Kristina Buozyte, Bruno Samper
Written by: Kristina Buozyte, Bruno Samper
Starring: Raffiella Chapman, Eddie Marsan, Richard Brake, Rosy McEwen, Melanie Gaydos, Edmund Dehn
Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper’s Vesper join a long line of post-apocalyptic films dealing with climate change and the destruction of the natural planet. And while Vesper garners influence from various works, the movie I believe most resembles is director Gareth Edwards’ feature-film debut, Monsters. Indeed, Vesper is a science-fiction film that forgoes a strong narrative structure in favour of its world-building and an intimate story with themes of family and class privilege.
There’s an incredibly talented cast on display here: Eddie Marsan disturbs in his portrayal of Jonas, a village leader and uncle to Vesper who wants her to become his “breeder”; Richard Brake, as the paralysed father, expresses layers of emotion using the slightest of facial expression, and Rosy McEwan dazzles as the mysterious Camellia. It’s only a small cast, but that allows us more time with each character. Our lead here is 13-year-old Vesper (an outstanding turn from Raffiella Chapman), who struggles to survive whilst caring for her paralysed father in a future where Earth’s ecosystem has collapsed. Engineered viruses have wiped out large populations of people, and edible plants and animals are no more. The rich thrive still in large walled cities called citadels, while the poor struggle to survive. The only food left to eat is genetically engineered seeds traded by the citadels, coded to only yield one crop.
The rolling text at the film’s opening refers to this time as “The New Dark Ages”, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a classic case of the rich controlling the poor by means of power and control. Those privileged by birth or money thrive in castle-like structures, while those less fortunate are left to live in squalor and fend for themselves. Oddly, we don’t get much in the way of information about the ecological disaster that has taken place here. For the most part, we stay firmly focused on the neo-feudalist politics of this new world. It’s an odd choice in many ways, but it’s well-presented and works just fine.
Pacing is likely to be a problem for some, as it starts incredibly slowly, only picking up at around the halfway mark. The story is also a little wayward and scattered, resulting in a lack of emotional clout. Vesper presents itself as a quiet contemplation on socio-political issues rather than an action-packed romp through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. And suppose you appreciate great settings and stunning visuals like me. In that case, you’ll be happy to watch Vesper wandering the wilds of this ruined but still recognisable Earth for hours.
The stunning world-building in Vesper comes largely down to the work of cinematographer Feliksas Abrukauskas and composer Dan Levy, who drench its world in an intimately sullen atmosphere, which seems to change with the prevailing winds of emotion carried throughout the film. We get a real sense of not just what the world now physically embodies but the emotional turmoil it has endured. In this way, a mere setting takes on a character of its own. It serves as a poignant reminder of the environmental issues affecting us all.
Vesper is an awe-inspiring piece of work in its own right. Still, its real strength lies in the possibility of development in potential sequels. There’s so much more to see, explore, and discover stories to tell in this desolate but beautiful world. However, to reach its full potential, the narrative must be tight, focused and have a clear purpose. Vesper is top-notch sci-fi, and I sincerely hope Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper get the opportunity to make more films set in this universe.