An ingeniously constructed puzzler. TWITTER7/10/2020
“They say that when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. I wish it were that simple,” says James, the main character, in his voiceover narration at the beginning of Volition. It’s a wish that viewers may share by the conclusion of Tony Dean Smith’s sci-fi thriller, the sort of endlessly twisty, mind-bending puzzle of a film that will make you question your cognitive abilities should you fail to keep up. It’s no wonder the uncommonly clever and inventive indie film received the Best Feature award at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival.
James (Adrian Glynn McMorran, Arrow) also voices the notion, “Our choices don’t matter. Life happens beyond our control.” And he should know, since he’s been clairvoyant since he was a little boy. James foresaw the death of his mother in a car accident when he was seven years old, but was helpless to prevent it. Now, he makes his living placing bets on games for which he knows the outcome and occasionally lending his unique services to local gangster Ray (John Cassini). To keep track of his visions, he scrawls them on a wall of his apartment, in a plot element that inevitably recalls Guy Pearce’s method of jogging his memory in Memento.
After rescuing a young woman, Angela (Magda Apanowicz, The Green Inferno), whom he happens upon while she’s being attacked by thugs, James is corralled by Ray’s henchmen (Frank Cassini, Aleks Paunovic). They escort him to their boss, who hires James to use his powers to safeguard a bag of stolen diamonds and determine how they can be safely fenced.
The assignment leads James down a rabbit hole of dangerous complications, including foreseeing his own death, which he’d naturally like to prevent. In the process, he begins a relationship with Angela and turns for help to his estranged foster father, Elliott (a heavily bearded Bill Marchant, bearing a distracting resemblance to Nick Offerman).
It’s with the introduction of Elliot that things get even loopier, as the storyline is expanded to include not just psychic abilities but also time travel. And as anyone who’s seen such time travel movies as Looper and Predestination knows all too well, it doesn’t take long before they become elaborate cinematic puzzle boxes that require the utmost concentration to decipher. Volition is no exception, as its scenario shifts back and forth in time with various scenes replayed from different perspectives that alter their meaning.
The film also succeeds on an emotional level, as we come to care about the fate of its scruffy hero desperately fighting for his life. The charismatic McMorran and Apanowicz display palpable chemistry, while veteran character actors and real-life siblings John and Frank Cassini (here playing cousins) infuse their roles with entertaining pungency and Paunovic uses his imposing physicality to fearsome effect.
The filmmaker, making his feature debut with a script co-written with his brother Ryan W. Smith, expertly handles the convoluted proceedings and delivers a well-polished effort despite the budgetary limitations. The propulsive pacing will keep even less attentive viewers engrossed, while those closely following the plot’s twists and turns will find their diligence rewarded.
Available in theaters and on various digital platforms
Production companies: Paly Productions, Smith Brothers Film Company
Distributor: Giant Pictures
Cast: Adrian Glynn McMorran, Magda Apanowicz, John Cassini, Frank Cassini, Aleks Paunovic, Bill Marchant
Director: Tony Dean Smith
Screenwriters/producers: Tony Dean Smith, Ryan W. Smith
Executive producer: Laurence “Paly” Palestrant
Director of photography: Byron Kopman
Production designer: Tony Durke
Composer: Matthew Rogers
Costume designer: Amroe Anderson