by Alain Elliott
Stars: Adrian Glynn McMorran, Magda Apanowicz, John Cassini, Aleks Paunovic, Frank Cassini, Bill Marchant | Written by Tony Dean Smith, Ryan W. Smith | Directed by Tony Dean Smith
Less all-out horror and more a sci-fi thriller, Volition still fits nicely alongside the rest of this year’s varied Frightfest line-up… James sees his mother die in a car crash in a vision two days before it actually happens. Unable to stop it because no-one will believe him, twenty-odd years later he has come out of the foster care system struggling with life because he knows everything is predestined. He then sees his own death and follows a path that he hopes will stop it.
Volition manages to have an interesting, captivating and detailed story that could easily get really confusing but because of how well the film is edited and made, is surprisingly easy to follow. We head back and forth in time, always leading back to present day and what is happening in James’ world. It’s hard to speak about Volition too much without going into spoiler territory and I don’t want to do that. It’s definitely a film you want to watch knowing as little as possible. James meets a woman – Angela (Magda Apanowicz – Green Inferno), who soon becomes a big part of his life and someone he wants to change his predestined future for. Mixed-up with petty criminals, he’s not in the best shape to save his or anyone else’s life.
Volition gives off plenty of Memento-vibes. Like that movie before it, it has you continuously guessing where everything is heading while never throwing in a twist just for the sake of it. As you keep watching, each step seems logical and will keep you glued to your seat. I loved trying to work out what might happen next and then going back over things in my head. This is a movie you will want to and possibly need to, watch on more than one occasion.
Adrian Glynn McMorran as James puts in a strong performance. His character goes through a lot and McMorran makes you feel it all alongside him. The other most notable performer was Aleks Paunovic, who I’m sure plays a similar character (big bruiser guy that likes to beat people up) in many films – but he’s good at it so why not? He also pops up in another of this year’s Frightfest movies Freaks.
Director and co-writer Tony Dean Smith has few movies and shorts to his name, so it’s no surprise that this looks very good for what is, I assume, a low budget. There’s a really cool use of slow motion in a couple of scenes. Something that can come across gimmicky but really adds something to the scenes it is used in. One small complaint is I nearly always hate the use of CGI blood, and when used in Volition, it doesn’t look great.
Despite some familiar themes, Volition is a fantastic and original idea that is extremely well made for the screen. At times thought-provoking – would you lead your life differently if you knew it was all predetermined? – while managing to stay highly entertaining throughout.
Volition screened on Saturday August 24th 2019 as part of this years Arrow Video Frightfest.
What’s the story: A man able to see the future is plagued with visions of his own death when he becomes involved in a diamond exchange.
What’s the verdict: Remember Next, that Nicolas Cage movie where he could see a few minutes into the future? Probably not, it was forgettable trash with a title that echoed Cage’s approach to his film career.
But, that intriguing concept of someone who can see snatches of what is yet to come is handled far better in Tony Dean Smith’s Volition. A Nolanesque treatment of key Philip K. Dick themes, this is a salutary example of how imagination and talent do not require a $200m budget to succeed. And fittingly, won Best Feature at the 2019 Philip K. Dick Film Festival.
James (McMorran, best known for TV’s Arrow) is a small-time hustler, using his clairvoyance to win comfortable sums on sports bets. One eventful day sees James rescuing stranger Angela (Apanowicz) from a street assault, before he is recruited to foresee any trouble in a diamond exchange being orchestrated by smalltime crook, Ray (Cassini).
But, with the assignment comes repeated visions of his own death. James, together with Angela, attempts to outflank what seems to be his destiny as he pieces together clues from his erratic visions.
As with Christopher Nolan’s Memento or Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes, Volition manages to play mind-games with time and space without leaving the audience zoning out in confusion. True, attention is key; this isn’t a movie to play in the background while flicking through your phone.
But, those who like their sci-fi with a healthy serving of smarts will be gripped by the story Smith and co-writer brother Ryan unfold.
Heavyweight concepts of predestination and freewill are at the heart of the story, but the brothers cannily weave in neo-noir detective tropes, well-staged suspense moments and a good old-fashioned love story to keep the audience engaged.
McMorran (who took a pay cut to appear) believably makes the shift from schlub to hero, while Cassini and Apanowicz breathe emotional life into fleshed-out supporting characters. As do Frank Cassini (John Cassini’s brother, continuing the fraternal connections) as Ray’s criminal cousin and Bill Marchant as someone key to helping James in his predicament.
Hopefully, the future is bright for this polished gem.
Written by Becky Roberts
Directed by Tony Dean Smith
Written by Tony Dean Smith and Ryan W. Smith
2019, 91 minutes
UK Premiere: 24th August 2019
What would you do if you could see visions of the near future? Bet on the boxing? Create a winning Fantasy football team? Make money as a fortune teller?
Lone wolf grifter James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) uses his clairvoyance affliction to aid organized crimes that he can see will go smoothly. But when an illegal diamond handover goes wrong and he accidentally involves a girl (Magda Apanowicz) he’s just met, James is forced to play with morality to try to change their seemingly dire fate.
A Timecrimes meets True Romance meets Looper sci-fi thriller, Volition delivers a tight and suspenseful plot that pitches the ‘a life by design’ concept against, as represented by its title, the challenging idea that one has the power and will to create their own course. James has seen his imminent death over and over, but while he is hunted down by mobsters (John Cassini, Frank Cassini and Aleks Paunovic) in the lead up to the fatal confrontation, can he find a way to domineer his own destiny?
A mind-meddling fusion of flashbacks, flash-forwards and multiple time zones, it’s inherently messy – but it’s well organised and cleverly considered mess. And while there are examples in the genre of more sophisticated and complex executions of alternate timeframe narratives – the aforementioned Timecrimes, The Infinite Man, Primer… – Volition pulls off the ambitious looper narrative feat with a keen perception and commitment without trying to bite off more than it can chew, promising twists and turns and reveal after reveal until its climactic end.
Winner of the best feature award at The Philip K. Dick Film Festival, where it fittingly made its world premiere earlier this year, director Tony Dean Smith’s Canadian indie gem (written by him and his brother, Ryan W. Smith) thrives not only on an enthralling, fast-paced narrative but also on the chemistry of its two stars, McMorran and Apanowicz, who you’re compelled to root for from the get-go. A no lesser contribution from Bill Marchant as James’ foster father completes the all-Canadian cast.
With an attention-grabbing plot and all-round performances in the bag, Volition is a surefire 90 minutes of thrilling indie entertainment.
Born in South Africa and living in Vancouver since his teens, Tony Dean Smith is a Director & Writer – known for his visual and elegant camerawork, grounded performances and sharp sense of story. His feature-film directorial debut, VOLITION, is an elevated sci-fi thriller that has swept up awards across the world, receiving rave reviews – and has been flatteringly compared to MEMENTO, LOOPER, and BLACK MIRROR. He was the youngest director on the acclaimed television series ROBSON ARMS (3 episodes), helmed the series pilot for HEALTH NUTZ and has written and directed multiple long form movies, including “Love Under The Rainbow” for Hallmark, the stylish Lifetime thriller “The Killer Downstairs” along with the upcoming “Guesthouse Affairs” and “The College Killer.” A life-long camera nerd and storyboard artist, his ability to see the edit before the shoot allows him to save hours of production time, doubly aided by his background as an award-winning picture editor. As an actor of stage (yes, jazz hands) and screen (X-FILES, POLTERGEIST), Tony’s sense of character, precision and playfulness are always present, giving him unparalleled comfort on set – allowing truly authentic and courageous collaboration between his fellow producers, actors and crew.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ryan is a writer for film and television, living between Los Angeles and Vancouver. Recent credits include: Adapting a confidential political drama feature for Anonymous Content; writing on the animated feature, “Next Gen,” starring John Krasinski and Constance Wu (Netflix Original); Co-writing and Producing the feature sci-fi thriller, “Volition” (Smith Brothers/Paly Productions) with his brother, Tony Dean Smith, the film’s Director; writing and serving as Senior Story Editor/Writer for “ReBoot: The Guardian Code” (Netflix Original); serving as Supervising-Producer/Writer on “Some Assembly Required” (Netflix Original); and as Senior Executive Story Editor/Writer on “Mr. Young” (Disney). Between the above series, Ryan has written on over 150 episode of television, and received two Leo Awards. He is also the winner of the ScreenCraft Fellowship and an Austin Film Festival Semifinalist for his historical thrillers, “Jacaranda” and “Black Messiah.” Ryan and his brother Tony are also winners of the Superchannel Super Catalyst Award for their screenplay, “The Sensational.”
(The Revenant, CW’S Arrow, CW’s Supernatural, Woody Woodpecker)
Adrian Glynn McMorran is a Canadian actor and musician. Recent film credits include The Revenant and Woody Woodpecker and recent TV credits include Arrow, Charmed and Supernatural. Adrian has released three solo records of his music (as Adrian Glynn) and another three with his modern folk band, The Fugitives. He has toured to more than twelve countries and been nominated for multiple songwriting and theatrical awards, most recently as Songwriter of the Year for the Canadian Folk Music Awards. He lives in Vancouver, BC.
(Netflix’s You, Caprica, Kyle XY, Continuum, Green Inferno, Butterfly Effect)
Fresh off of shooting VOLITION, Magda has just been cast as a series lead in Season II of the Netflix hit, YOU. Magda is best known for her roles as Andy Jensen on the series KYLE XY, as Lacy Rand on Syfy’s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA spin-off CAPRICA, and as Emily on the futuristic science-fiction series CONTINUUM. She has also played lead roles in Eli Roth’s Green Inferno and the cult classic, The Butterfly Effect.
(Seven, Alive, Continuum, Get Carter)
As a member of the legendary Actor’s Studio, John Cassini’s first Hollywood role was in the survival epic, ALIVE. This multiple Gemini Nominee (honouring the best in Canadian television) has had the distinction of playing regular series leads on both of Canada’s number one television shows: the award-winning Intelligence, and the critically praised comedy Robson Arms. John’s small screen credits include recurring roles on CBS’s The Handler, Fox’s Brimstone, and Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital. John has over 50 Guest Star appearances that include multiple episodes on NYPD Blue, ER, The Practice, and the new Jerry Bruckheimer CBS drama Eleventh Hour. His roles in mini-series’ include NBC’s 10.5 and 10.5 the Apocalypse, Traffic, and Final Days of Planet Earth. John also has an impressive list of big screen credits as well. John co-wrote, produced and starred in the award winning independent film Break A Leg starring Molly Parker, Jennifer Beals, Sandra Oh, Kevin Corrigan and Eric Roberts. John’s other feature film credits include: The Game, Seven, Alive, Paycheck,and Get Carter, among others.
(Good Fellas, Watchmen, Moonstruck, Blackstone)
Frank has been a working actor for over 30 years in Film, TV, and Theatre, accumulating an extensive resume while living in New York, Los Angeles and currently Vancouver. Selected credits include – VOLITION, WATCHMEN, LITTLE BROTHER OF WAR (Leo Award nominee), BREAK A LEG, JAMES DEAN, FOR A FEW LOUSY DOLLARS (Leo Award nominee), and has had the privilege of working with Martin Scorsese in GOODFELLAS and Norman Jewison in MOONSTRUCK. Frank is the recipient of the 2012 Leo Award for Best Supporting Actor in the Canadian Dramatic Series BLACKSTONE. Some of his other TV appearances include recurring and guest starring roles in CULT, ROGUE, SUPERNATURAL, CONTINUUM, THE KILLING, and THE BRIDGE (a regular for a season.), INTELLIGENCE, STARGATE SG-1 – dating all the way back to X- FILES, AND MIAMI VICE. He is a member of The Actor’s Studio in both NY and LA, since 1997.