In a world where genetic engineering went awry, wiping out edible plants and animals along with most humans, oligarchs have holed themselves up in Citadels bioengineered for comfort. People like the 13 year-old (Raffiella Chapman, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children") caring for disabled father Darius (Richard Brake, "Barbarian") survive by their wits in the wilderness while her uncle, Jonas (Eddie Marsan, "Happy Go Lucky"), exploits them for seeds from the Citadel. When the girl finds Camellia (Rosy McEwen, TV's 'The Alienist: Angel of Darkness') in a Citadel drone crash, she begins to care for her, but Camellia has something Jonas wants enough to inflict great pain on “Vesper.”
Laura's Review: B
This sociological sci-fier from cowriter (with Brian Clark)/directors Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper ("ABCs of Death 2") contains an age old message within a stunningly realized post-apocalyptic earth. The film is reminiscent of films from “The Hunger Games” to “Avatar” to the low budget 2018 indie “Prospect” with its Western vibe, yet the fine cast and incredible attention to detail make it seem fresh.
With her ragamuffin hair, wide set eyes and pale skin, Chapman seems an alien in a strange land, fitting for a world of scavengers. We meet her foraging, a droid flying over her shoulder with a painted on face like “Castaway’s” Wilson which we will learn is the ambulatory, talking version of the bedridden, speechless father hooked up to an IV back home. She finds what looks like a beet in the mud, something we see her transform into IV nutrients back home.
That home is an old wood cabin in a fairy tale forest. As she approaches, creatures that look like fiddlehead ferns pop up out of holes, chattering like welcoming pets. In the distance we see a figure cloaked all in black, a circular black funnel-like covering obscuring its face. This, we will learn, is a Pilgrim, the cult which Vesper’s mother ran away with. Upon entering the home, its interior a cross between a Western pioneer’s and a laboratory, Vesper discovers her bacteria have been stolen and her generator sabotaged. She heads to her uncle’s for help, only to find a gruesome sight unfolding outside where a Jug (Melanie Gaydos), a humanoid creature created with human DNA, is screaming in pain having been pinned down by a heavy piece of equipment. Jonas orders Mo (Markas Eimontas), a young boy to kill it, assuring him it ‘won’t feel any pain’ when clearly it does. Then he tricks Vesper into giving him blood for nothing in return. She steals seeds on her way out, but the GMO kernels cannot germinate.
The beautiful, blond Camellia, who was thrown from the drone on impact, is desperate to find her influential father, Elias (Edmund Dehn) back at the crash sight and the fates of Elias and Darius, both at the hands of Jonas, will give these young women a melancholy bond. Their differences are readily apparent in casting, costume (notable) and speech, yet they share a moral ideology.
The Lithuanian shot film feels both of and out of this world using enhanced practical effects for genetic mutations and machinery. Vesper nurses wounds with biological band-aids resembling tripe and creates luminous plants which respond to touch. A simplistic score of emphatic, tonal chords evolves into choral uplift. We never see a Citadel until the film’s final scene, and then at a distance, a brilliant conclusion of hope over cynicism, compassion over greed.
Robin's Review: B
In the not-too-distant future, the Earth’s ecosystem has collapsed and 13 year old Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) must fight to survive while caring for her paralyzed father (Richard Brake). A strange glider crashes near their home and she rescues the lone survivor, a woman who will change her life forever in “Vesper.”
The young girl’s world is one of stoic despair and very little hope, but is incredibly smart and inventive in taking care of her invalid father and herself. She is aided in her tasks by what I call a floating “Alexa” that channels and projects her dad’s voice, giving her some guidance in traversing a cruel and dangerous world.
The entire ecosystem collapsed because of GMOs run amuck and her uncle, Jonas (Eddie Marsan), is the chieftain of the post-apocalypse area. But, he is a vassal of the Citadel, where there rich and really powerful sit out the horrors that man has caused.
The life of the have nots of the world is grim, though, and Vesper and her dad are merely two pawns in the chess game of life. But, she is resourceful and enters forbidden territory and steals some very special seeds that could save world from the mutations caused my humans. Dystopian worlds should look bleak and forbidding and that is accomplished here by co-directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper and their cast and crew.
Raffiella Chapman, 13 years old at the time she plays a 13 year old (nice casting), gives a good mix as a struggling child but one that must be mature and capable beyond her meager years. Vesper is the center of this future tale of tragedy and hope and holds the screen well opposite the more veteran cast members Eddie Marsan and Rosy McEwen, as the mysterious woman, Camelia, The focus is, though, on our young heroine.
This Brave New World looks suitably grim and the makers should be praised for the limited use of green screen for F/X shots, only when necessary to bring vivid color into the film’s palate. I also want to see where the young star goes from here.
IFC Films opens "Vesper" in select theaters and on VOD on 9/30/22.