Writers: Kristina Buozyte, Brian Clark and Bruno Samper
Directors : Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper
Vesper is a coming-of-age story which is ambitious in relating to the maturation of not just an individual but humanity as a whole.
In the distant future the earth has been devastated after humanity, trying to put right centuries of ecological abuse, experimented with genetic modification of crops which, when introduced into the ecosystem, overwhelmed ordinary plant life leaving the planet barren and the population on the verge of starvation. The elite are safe in Citadels and ensure their dominance over other survivors by genetically designing seeds which terminate after growing once. Humans are pretty much redundant – unnecessary even as a labour force as the elite also manufacture clones, devoid of emotions or intelligence but ideal as slaves. All ordinary survivors can offer in trade is their blood.
Thirteen-year-old Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) hopes her skill at biohacking to produce new breeds of plant will attract the attention of the elite and gain entrance for herself and her ailing bed-ridden father Darius (Richard Brake) to a Citadel. But the generator and equipment which sustains the DIY iron lung upon which Darius depends is fragile necessitating Vesper having to ask favours of her uncle Jonas (Eddie Marsan) who oversees a shanty town of survivors and regards women, including his niece, as only suitable for donating blood or for breeding. The surprise appearance of the ethereal Camellia (Rosy McEwen), runaway from a Citadel, pushes matters to crisis point.
Vesper is written by Kristina Buozyte, Brian Clark and Bruno Samper and directed by Buozyte and Samper. The influence of HR Giger’s biomechanical designs and David Cronenberg’s body horror concepts are apparent. The Citadels, far from being sleek modern buildings, look like jellyfish or mushrooms; the pipes through which they suck resources resembling roots. The inside of a drone device and the weapons used by the Citadel’s soldiers are organic rather than mechanical – the latter sending a suffocating substance into Vesper’s home. In an act uncomfortably like rape, Jonas imposes himself upon Camellia through an alien aperture in her neck.
In any other movie the genetically modified Camellia would have supernatural abilities making her able to fight off intruders and resist threats in a satisfyingly physical manner. Here, however, her role is more emotional serving as a mother substitute and giving the older than her years Vesper the rare chance to act like a child. The tension in the movie arises more from a claustrophobic sense of options running out rather than externally imposed menace. This is a move in which solutions come from the mind rather than the muscles.
The colour palette for Vesper is restrained. The lush forest background is frequently obscured in mist or darkness and the clothing worn by the survivors is close to camouflage. Only Camellia’s sky-blue dress brings any brightness. There is, however, a peculiar alien beauty to the hybrid plants designed by Vesper including vampiric ones which threaten Camellia. The storytelling is taut, so details emerge discreetly – the shack in which father and daughter reside is safeguarded by mutant weeds which pop up screeching to warn of intruders. There is scant light relief in the film; the closet to a joke is the comic face sketched on the drone used by Darius to keep an eye on his daughter. Vesper’s loneliness is apparent in her habit of anthropomorphising her plants- describing their personalities and referring to them as “he” or “she.”
The characters are complex; Eddie Marsan’s Jonas is morally repulsive almost grooming his niece towards sexualisation. Yet Marsan carries himself as someone who can barely contain his anger at his own actions and commits a murder consumed by self-disgust.
Rather than the usual smart-mouth cocky teen protagonist Raffiella Chapman is restless and inquisitive, a reluctant heroine. With cropped hair and her body permanently obscured by baggy clothes her sex is irrelevant to anyone except her exploitative uncle. Chapman carries the moral sense of the movie; her maturation, and that of humanity, reflected in her decision to literally turn her back on the Citadels.
Darkly absorbing Vesper is a refreshing change from the rapid paced and superficial approach often taken to science fiction.
Signature Entertainment presentsVesperin cinemas and on digital 21 October.