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
Published 16 hours ago
on July 15, 2020
A sci-fi film noir about the implications of knowing the future, and the motivation to change it. Tense, sharply written, and a very satisfying watch.
When James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) was small, he foresaw the death of his mother and was unable to prevent it. As a result, he grew up believing that it makes no difference what he does, so he uses his occasional clairvoyant visions for petty crime instead of changing the world. Two things change for James in Volition which put his belief in predestination to the test: he makes a new friend, Angela (Magda Apanowicz); and he also sees his own death. Does James have the capacity to change what he foresees, and if not, is it worth trying?
Yes, I’ve seen Predestination, but the film which used that concept explicitly was Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Excuse me if I seem to be going unusually Hollywood right now, but the famous line, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves,” has been kind of a motto for me in the last year or so, while I’ve been going through some personal changes: I like to think I can decide life for myself at this point. Consequently, I was wary of Volition from a very early scene when I saw how the lead character so firmly felt the opposite: how can James be the hero of the story if he doesn’t believe his actions matter? But although my description above may suggest a Philip K Dick style story, this one is indeed bleaker than a typical Dick adaptation: James pushes against fate, against his better judgment, and… well, I’m not going to tell you whether things are all mapped out for him or not.
Volition is one of those films, like Memento or Timecrimes, in which the viewer and lead character alike only have enough pieces to put the picture together as the film nears its end. And like those other films, you can put the picture together more effectively if you catch all the pieces that are thrown casually at you. The script is beautifully assembled, so that although the viewer never sees any more than James does (we get to see his visions too), it is not confusing, but rather flows well and draws the viewer into seeing life as James does.
Actually (if you’ll excuse a little tangent), the similarity to Memento was brought to my attention early on when I saw James taking notes; and I was mildly dismayed about what looked like the reuse of tropes. Shortly after, I was led to expect (or thought I was) a retelling of what I consider to be the Kung Fu Panda theme (“One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” Master Oogway)… But Volition was frankly so well written and directed that I think this has become – finally – the film that demonstrates to me that it doesn’t always matter if familiar components are reused if they are put to good use and if they work smoothly with other components or the film as a whole. I’ve put too much weight on originality to date, I think: you may think as you watch Volition that you’ve seen this, that or the other before, but trust me; it’s unlikely you’ve seen these cards played so well. OK, tangent over.
Where was I? Yes: the story, complex though it is, flows exceptionally well. Directed by Tony Dean Smith, and written by him in partnership with his brother Ryan W Smith; this partnership is a success. The two must have thrashed out the story until no holes could be found; produced it together, making it look and feel solid; and Tony led the crew as director. Along with cinematographer Byron Kopman and composer Matthew Rogers I’ve found some talent worth following here.
I know I may seem kind of smitten here, but I’ve just watched Volition a second time, and I still have seen no plot holes. There are a couple of flaws, naturally, but they really don’t make much difference to the enjoyment of the film, or its thought-provoking nature. The one flaw I noticed during the film was the way the science part of the sci-fi was simply accepted, with little discussion. But to do so would have been to slow down the pace, and there was just about enough (well managed) exposition, so I didn’t mind them doing without that bit. When it comes to science fiction, Volition is the philosophical kind, though, rather than the “hard sci-fi”; so you know, oh well, never mind the details. (But it is “true sci-fi”, in that the story would not have worked without those elements.)
The other flaw was in Angela’s character, in that we didn’t get to know very much about her. Granted, we got to know about as much as James did, and it’s his story; but she felt more like a walking, talking plot device in retrospect. Magda Apanowicz played her well though (with more nuance than her role in The Green Inferno demanded!), and she gave the friendship between Angela and James real warmth.
The secondary characters were written with a range of depth: the crooks were fairly clichéd while the most interesting was Eliot (Bill Marchant), James’ foster father, who we see at several different ages. Their relationship was fascinating, as Eliot must have required both affection and intellect to support James growing up with his tragic Cassandra complex.
Volition is promoted as a “time-bending sci-fi thriller”, but to me, it’s just as much a noir thriller as a sci-fi one. We have gangsters and low-lives, a damsel in distress, stolen diamonds and shoot-outs, hope, and despair. Ultimately, it’s a story about a man discovering the motivation to take control of his actions, and it’s a very satisfying 90 minutes indeed.
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Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.
Published at: July 11, 2020, 11 p.m. CST by McEric
I know, times are tough. We thought the world would open, then they closed it again. It’s especially bleak here in Texas. And apparently there’s a heat wave, too, but I genuinely haven’t been perturbed by it and I think that’s because I’m resigned to believe that I’m already in Hell.
Fantastic Fest is cancelled. Christopher Nolan’s TENET got pushed back. They’re talking about rebooting “Baywatch!” Is there any hope in sight?
After discovering I had contracted COVID-19 last month, I quarantined myself in my apartment. I slept a lot, drank a lot of whiskey, and lost twelve pounds. I also emailed every PR contact and scooped up all the screeners I could shove into my eyes. One of the true diamonds in this rough patch was the film VOLITION, by Tony Dean Smith, co-written and produced with his brother Ryan W. Smith. Check out the trailer:
VOLITION is a near-perfect film. The performances, cinematography, special effects, and color palette are all exceptional. What truly sets it apart, though, is the script. This is one of the more brilliant films I’ve seen on the indie sci-fi circuit, which sadly sometimes just goes for the mindfuck without much foreplay. Not so with the Smiths, who took their time to craft a tight story with emotion, intelligence, and a fair amount of philosophy. It left me with a few questions, but mostly a deep appreciation for the work that went into this wonderfully memorable tale.
I got the opportunity to chat with director Tony Dean Smith and his producing and writing partner, and brother, Ryan W. Smith on the last day of my quarantine. We talked about the story behind the film, assembling the great cast, and locking a sibling into a lifelong contract at age seven.
Eric McClanahan: Good morning, gentlemen. How are ya?
Tony Dean Smith: Good morning, Eric. We’re good. How are you?
EM: I’m well, thank you.
TDS: You’re one of the legends in my world. I hope you don’t mind me saying that.
TDS: Yeah, you. You’re McEric and Ain’t It Cool! I’ve loved you guys forever.
EM: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate that. I think that’s the first time I’ve heard that; sorry I was so taken aback. Well I’m really excited to talk to you guys because VOLITION is an amazing feat. It’s a very good film. Tell me about putting this film together, starting from the writing process.
TDS: Sure. The original kernel of an idea came to me a very, very long time ago in film school. As a teenager I was always late to everything, and when I got to film school they said “write what you know” so I thought, okay, I’m going to write about a scientist that invents a drug that makes him early, but he’s perceptionally early: he sees snippets of the future in fixed increments. So that was kind of the original rule of what I had stumbled upon – instead of a psychic who can see everything in everyone’s world, he can only see his own. But it was never grounded; it was this short film that I wrote didn’t have the depth of a theme that VOLITION would later have. A few years later I was feeling a little bit stuck in my film career, sort of feeling that I would never get the thing that I wanted to get, and I realized that my perception was actually a bit of a prison. What if my perception, what I was seeing in the future, was actually causing my future? I was this whole esoteric breakdown and I realized, oh, maybe that’s the missing piece to that script that I had. So I put those together and I wrote the script from James’s perspective rather than the scientist’s and the script was… good, cool, but it wasn’t until Ryan came on board, about a year later, that we dismantled it and instead of telling the story chronologically, we took another route. We used the clairvoyance in our film which was really exciting. And that’s the origins of the film.
EM: The only way that clairvoyance could work onscreen is that it has to be sold by the James character; he has to believe in it. Was Adrian Glynn McMorran involved in the writing process at all? Tell me about bringing him on board and getting him sold on this idea.
TDS: Adrian Glynn McMorran is someone that I had worked with before, as had Ryan, and we’ve known him since high school. He’s an incredible musician and very authentic artist, so when we were writing the character we knew in the back of our mind it could very likely be Adrian. He was not involved in the writing, itself, but we knew him so we could sort of try him on, and then eventually we did table reads down the road and everyone was able to mold the characters more to their own image. But we pretty much felt James as you see on the screen, and so it was in the script. Casting Adrian was really easy; he brought so much of his own world and his own history to it that what you see is actually a blend between Adrian and James, and that’s what we wanted.
EM: Tell me about young James’s artwork. Who made that for you guys? [In the film, James has experienced his clairvoyance from a very young age and has a collection of drawings he made of his visions.]
Ryan W Smith: The making of VOLITION was a bit of a family affair. We produced it ourselves, with the help of Paly Productions. Our sister was actually our first A.D. and our other sister actually ended up doing catering for our set. As for that artwork, our sister is involved in the community as a teacher, part time, and she actually asked her students to create all that artwork for young James. So those are authentic kid drawings.
EM: Nice outsourcing!
TDS: Hopefully they’re not too traumatized.
EM: Exactly. ‘Cause some of those pictures were kind of disturbing. Tell me about some of the background that you drew from in terms of time perception; some films or books that influenced the script.
TDS: It’s a long road of studying up in this area. Number one, we all love movies like 12 MONKEYS and BACK TO THE FUTURE, and as for the writing, itself, we love philosophy and articles of pseudo-science and whatnot. This came about along those lines, where as we were developing the story we realized that our own life experiences can be brought into it. Speaking for myself, that is, because I’ve had some really weird experiences that I would love to say are purely coincidental, but all of it can’t be explained away. So while writing the story we infused some of our experiences into it along with books by Philip K. Dick that we were reading, after the fact of finishing the first draft. We found a whole set universe of material to explore for this concept, which was very exciting for us.
RWS: When Tony first approached me with the early draft, what really grabbed me was the kernel of this idea of science fiction. A unique look at clairvoyance and what could be the cause behind it. I hadn’t seen that anywhere before and that’s what inspired me to want to hop onboard.
EM: When did you wrap filming on VOLITION?
TDS: We wrapped filming in mid-2018, and then started our festival run in March of the following year.
EM: What is it like now as brothers, producers, writing partners, and filmmakers during this pandemic? What are you guys doing now?
RWS: As brothers, I don’t know. We’re continuing to brainstorm ideas and collaborate. It’s been an interesting time in that it feels like a science fiction reality. Definitely inspiring some collaborations. And in terms of our future collaborations we’ve definitely been moved by everything that’s going on in the world right now and we’ve been thinking about the social context right now and how to explore that through the prism of sci-fi.
EM: Yeah, I definitely think we’re going to see a lot of explorations on what we’re going through right now in the near future of film. So this film is releasing July 10th [I know; I’m late]. How does it feel to be releasing the film in a time like this? This unprecedented moment in history?
TDS: Well, it’s a really strange time, of course, for everybody. Theaters are closed, and Christopher Nolan’s movie is pushed. It’s really strange and unsettling for everybody. And for us; I mean, it’s our first movie. But it’s still exciting, and we’re so thrilled that it’s getting out there and the world is going to hopefully connect to it. We had a small theatrical run scheduled, but we won’t get to it. It’s so much more important for the world now to get better. We’re just happy that it’s getting out there and we get to engage with our fans and see what people think about it.
EM: Just before you called I was watching an interview you two had done where you showed some of the early films you’d made, back when you were twelve and seven, respectively. For those who haven’t seen it, tell me about that contract that Tony had Ryan sign.
RWS: I’m still under contract, so I’ll let Tony speak.
TDS: Yeah, the statute of limitations is still in effect. Basically, Ryan was a bit of a renegade 7-year-old. As the professional 12-year-old director that I was it was very hard to discipline a 7-year-old. We were shooting multiple scenes all the time and eventually I had to coerce Ryan into signing a contract, believe it or not, which is written on Knott’s Berry Farm dinosaur paper stipulating that he had to come shoot the scene whenever I wanted to and he can’t wimp out and go crying to his mom; our mom, I should say. And he signed it, so it’s all fair and square.
RWS: It’s so hilarious. So many days, I mean, that’s how we spent our time: making films. The signature that you see on that dino paper is still the one I use today, by the way.
EM: So tell me about assembling this cast. Magda Apanowicz was wonderful, as well as Bill Marchant, and bringing in the Cassinis. Quite a few Canadians. Tell me about getting this cast.
TDS: Sure. Again, Ryan and I had worked with Adrian before and so we knew we wanted him. Magda is someone I had directed in film school, actually. I was a guest director and she was a student and she was just incredible so I knew that Ryan and I had to see her. And John Cassini, I had directed John a long time ago on a TV show and we just really hit it off. And Ryan and I did a short film that Frank Cassini was in. We were just really lucky to have worked in Vancouver, Canada and this incredible pool of talent up here. Getting Bill Marchant, as well. I’d known Bill for a long time; I actually edited a feature film for him when I was editing. And Aleks Paunovic; we wanted him from the get-go. You know, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, SNOWPIERCER, and a bunch of other cool projects. It became a real family affair. They all loved the script and liked us and what we were trying to do. So it was actually pretty easy, the casting process, for us.
EM: Yeah, Aleks Paunovic always brings such a Gravitas to the screen. As soon as I saw him I said “Oh, that guy! He’s great!”
RWS: When Aleks arrived on set, he’s such a big personality and a big guy that I was actually nervous. But he’s the warmest actor and warmest person in the world, and so great to work with.
EM: So what are you hoping that viewers will take away from VOLITION?
RWS: Well I just want to say that we know that everyone is healing from the wounds of having to wait longer for TENET to arrive, and my hope is that our film can be a tiny sliver of hope in that heady, time-bending genre that can hopefully keep us interested and engaged while we wait for TENET. Tony and I, I know, can’t wait to see that.
From here we get into spoilers, and I don’t want to take anything away from your initial viewing of this superb science fiction film. I had a great time picking Tony and Ryan’s brains about some of the more intricate details behind the film’s unraveling, and I guess that’s for me to have to myself. I don’t get paid for this so I have to take some rewards wherever I can. A great big thank you to Tony Dean Smith and Ryan W. Smith and I wish them all the luck in the world with VOLITION and whatever else they’ve cooked up in quarantine. (And I linked that interview I referred to earlier so you can see their early films; they’re a delight.)
Stream VOLITION today on all the major digital fronts and let me know what you think about their contribution to the science fiction/thriller lexicon. Is it the perfect aperitif for Nolan’s TENET? Let us know.
Until next time, stay safe and stay sane.
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-
Volition, VOD In the low-budget tradition of Primer and Timecrimes – but with the energy of a glossy joy ride like Looper –Canadian director Tony Dean Smith’s Volition is not exactly a horror movie. But its tale of a clairvoyant low-life (Adrian Glynn McMorran) who must solve the mystery of his own forthcoming death has the same cerebral-yet-scuzzy appeal of a future midnight-movie gem. While you might spend more time untangling Volition’s many influences – there’s a lot of Minority Report going on here, too –as you do its twists, Smith’s passion for the material is evident in every frame. Spend an evening sweating alongside McMorran’s character, and congratulate yourself on a summer night well done.
Crime doesn’t pay, repeatedly, in this clever Canadian thriller with a time-loop twist.
Snarled loops of time travel have proved a surprisingly versatile and rewarding fantasy-cinema trope in recent years, from the big-budget likes of “Edge of Tomorrow” to such enterprising indies as “Predestination,” not to mention comedies (“Palm Springs”), horror (“Happy Death Day”), romance (“Before I Fall”) and more. “Volition” makes a worthy addition to that roster: a crime drama whose scruffy protagonist has the gift of clairvoyance, but ends up having to repeatedly mess with the past to fix lethal mistakes to come. Tony Dean Smith’s clever thriller lands July 10 on digital platforms, where it should continue to be as well-received by sci-fi fans as it has been on the genre-festival circuit.
Living above an auto shop, lagging on rent, his appearance an unpromising cross between aging hipster and Ratso Rizzo, James aka Jimmy (Adrian Glynn McMorran) exudes a scraping-by vibe unimproved by his landlord’s eviction threats. If he feels like he’s “stuck watching the rerun” of his own life, that turns out to be for very good reason. Before we quite suss why, however, he’s corralled by fresh-outta-prison Sal (Frank Cassini) and hulking strong-arm Terry (Aleks Paunovic) into a meeting with boss Ray (John Cassini) at the legit-biz front for his illegitimate dealings.
Ray is in possession of $10 million in diamonds “from some guys in Zimbabwe who stole ’em from some dudes in Angola.” He wants to sell them, naturally, but due to prior felonious antics is being closely watched by the FBI. Ergo he needs Jimmy’s unique expertise: He has “visions” that foresee the future, and can thus hopefully figure out how the jewels might elude the Feds’ detection. A handsome honorarium is exchanged, and our hero takes the stones home for his paranormal thingie to meditate on. Sal and Terry are meant to make sure the diamonds don’t travel any farther afield.
Unfortunately, it turns out that Sal and Terry themselves plan to heist those same goods, a scheme that psychic Jimmy predicts just in time to scramble out the window — taking with him Angela (Magda Apanowicz), a transient damsel just rescued from back-alley distress. They scram in her truck, pursued by the bad guys (eventually also including Ray, who hasn’t realized his own flunkies are betraying him).
At the film’s 40-minute point, all land on the doorstep of Elliot (Bill Marchant), an old mentor who holds the key to Jimmy’s ability to “see things that haven’t happened yet.” He also possesses a serum that provides his erstwhile guinea pig/protégé means to revisit the past. This becomes essential when the present grows lethally violent. So Jimmy goes backwards to prevent disaster — but his efforts only seem to pile up further tragic complications. And every time Jimmy backtracks, there’s another, increasingly debilitated duplicate of himself running around, trying to correct the mistakes of the pre-existing incarnations.
Though well-cast and acted, these characters aren’t exactly deep; in fact, they have practically no backstory at all. But that’s OK, as “Volition” is the kind of enterprise in which the corkscrewing intricacy of plot mechanics are everything, the onscreen personnel just pawns in its gamesmanship. Despite some yakking about quantum physics, as well as debate over preordained fate versus free will, the film basically requires one giant leap of faith to work at all. Fortunately, the Smith brothers’ script (co-writer Ryan also produced) is succinctly propulsive enough to make that easy. Tony Dean’s direction is likewise well calibrated to glide past improbabilities before they even register.
It’s a film more gritty than stylish, but in any case with all key contributions lashed to the service of a tricky narrative with scant gratuitous fat or flamboyance. (The one notable repeated flourish, a giant super-slow-mo closeup of a bullet in mid-flight, seems a bit cheesy as a result.) It’s billed as a feature directorial debut, but the Smiths have been working together and separately on various TV movies and other projects for some years. You can sense the accumulated expertise that makes “Volition” at once lean and densely packed.
It’s not the most profound, spectacular, funny or novel of recent time-travel movies. But it’s the one that best exploits this subgenre’s twisty potential while remaining faithful to the tenor and aesthetic of a traditional, enjoyably humble crime meller. The sci-fi angle that separates it from a noirish 1940s B-pic or a street-smart 1970s thriller is underlined by Matthew Rogers’s pulsing synth score.
“They say when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes,” intones the voice-over of protagonist James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) at the start of Tony Dean Smith’s Volition. For James, life isn’t that simple, principally because he can occasionally take a peek of the future. Suffice it to say, James is simultaneously gifted and cursed.
James is clairvoyant, which scrambles the narrative and how the pieces come together, if they ever do. Volition is a serpentine sci-fi thriller that wrestles with the perennial conceptions of free will and destiny. As seen in Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, the discourse on free will isn’t a new conundrum in any way. But Volition examines it in an intoxicatingly brisk and restless fashion that precisely fits all its puzzle pieces together.
The title alone will have you believe James’s fate is not yet written, as volition is a term that denotes decision-making and free will. When death knocks on our front door, we will be whisked away from this life. We will never know when, but perhaps not knowing when we die is better than knowing exactly when, as the fear of our predetermined death would wreak havoc in our insides, and we would stubbornly try to avert it. But if fate dictated our death, we wouldn’t be able to avert it. For James, he sees himself getting shot in the not-so-distant future. He knows death is approaching, and there’s a part of him that fears it and wants to change the outcome. Through his attempts to overcome death, a quintessential question lingers in the back of the viewer’s mind: is his future already sealed by fate?
“…James is tasked to transport a bag of blood diamonds worth millions in exchange for much-needed rent money.”
James’s affliction of clairvoyance can be traced back to childhood, where he knew his mother was going to die two days before the scarring incident. In present-day, to remember every future vision, James draws inextricable diagrams on the wall of his poky apartment. Soon enough, James has a future vision of a woman in distress a few feet away, and he saves the woman from a couple of virulent men. After being crowned a savior, James has another vision, which shows him that he’ll have a real relationship with Angela (a personable Magda Apanowicz), the woman he saved.
Short on cash, James takes money from one of the violent men’s wallet, and charms Angela with his unbridled charisma. But, the romance of Angela and James is cut short when gangster Ray (a versatile John Cassini) summons James for a potential job. James is tasked to transport a bag of blood diamonds worth millions in exchange for much-needed rent money.
The clairvoyant’s trek is by no means a bloodless journey as Ray’s associates Terry (Aleks Paunovic) and Sal (Frank Cassini) double-cross their boss and try to steal the diamonds for themselves, while James sees his murder. In a moment of haste and apprehension, James takes Angela with him as they evade the scheming goons. They end up at the home of James’s foster father, Elliot (a creepily composed Bill Marchant), where everything comes full circle, though neither James nor the audience knows that yet.
The journey becomes convoluted when James utilizes time-travel to preserve his life and the people around him. Woefully, this isn’t elementary time-bending hopscotch, and his condition slowly corrodes as the realities between past and present become too physically and mentally strenuous to handle.
Supported by a pulsating score composed by Matthew Rogers, the Smith Brothers’ heady script, and Byron Kopman’s superb cinematography (which nicely captures James through trembling close-ups), Volition is a slick mind-bending thriller that never feels miscalculated. It doesn’t, however, offer up a worthwhile relationship between James and Angela. Regrettably, Angela comes to believe James far too easily, and there isn’t that much chemistry between them. That being said, Angela is narratively important, and Magda Apanowicz gives a rounded performance as Angela.
Adrian Glynn McMorran delivers an engaging lead performance as the hopeless criminal-turned-romantic. When we first meet James, he’s insolent and reckless. He also carefully considers his dreadful fate but neglects to consider how Angela will be affected. After the climax devastatingly plays out, James becomes concerned for the people around him impacted by his verboten antics. As Volition travels along a deliberately tangled tightrope, the unwavering determination of the lead is laudable, if somewhat imprudent, and self-regarding.
“…a structurally and morally intricate script that presents a mystery worth exploring…”
Despite the mystic gift he wields, James is not all-knowing. He knows he dies soon, but he doesn’t know all the details prompting his tragic demise. There are purposeful voids between each vivid glance into the future. Not only does that work to build suspense, but the intrigue also prospers on the mystery behind his death. James will be shot, but why and how? Is it intentional, accidental, or instinctive?
Screenwriters Tony and Ryan Smith wrote a structurally and morally intricate script that presents a mystery worth exploring and contemplating long after the credits roll. The film is strictly contained, profoundly feverish, and gratifyingly paradoxical all at once.
Tony Dean Smith’s Volition pushes the viewer to reflect on their existence deeply. Are our lives planned out by some unseen, omnipotent force, or are we really given independence and free will? Unfortunately, unlike James, we will never know. In the meantime, we can try to draw conclusions through sheer belief or spiritual guidance. Either way, our future, and existence don’t come with instructions or clues. And maybe that’s for the best.
Gearing up for a 2020 release, VOLITION is thrilled to land on multiple BEST FESTIVAL FILMS OF 2019 LISTS! Thank you HorrorHound.com, SliceofSciFi.com and ThePeoplesMovies.com, among others, for the shout outs! We’re thrilled to sit alongside such films as Us, Midsommar, Freaks and Parasite!
To top it off, the reviews on these list have been absolutely stellar, as you can read below!
“Volition – by Tony Dean Smith (Frightfest)
One of the few films found on my favorites list this year to play more than the top tier festivals, Tony Dean Smith’s Volition is one of the truly, best hybrids of horror and science fiction this year and perhaps this decade. Anchored by a series of stellar performances that lays a human foundation to the complex storytelling, the film features lead actor Adrian Glynn McMorran as ‘James’ and the character ‘Uncle Ray’ played by the versatile John Cassini. Volition, tells the story of James, who is afflicted by clairvoyance. Going down a wrong path since he was a teen, James one day, witnesses a bunch of events that may lead to his death. As a mysterious woman and a former friend enter his life, James’s world is turned upside down as he puts the pieces together in search of the meaning behind these events as well as who he can trust. One of the most surprising films this year, the Smith Brothers (Tony and Ryan) craft a complex narrative that weaves a mystery that compliments the emotional weight, flawed characters, stellar cinematography, and circular storytelling. Tied up nicely with the strong edit by Tony Dean Smith, Volition just hooks you with the humor, horror, and heart from moment one. (TBA 2020)”
“Thematically Volition is a rich and diverting experience, with moral and ethical conundrums orbiting the central concept of the pliability of fate. The choices finally made by the likeable James, as he seeks to break from the white knuckle grip of inevitability, are compelling and unexpectedly moving.
Movies with this much intelligence and finite logistics are often prone to smug self-aggrandising. They seem to relish the Machiavellian headlock they have inflicted on the viewer, forcing them to acquiesce in the sheer cleverness of it all. Where Volition is crucially different is that it presents its elegant narrative as a case for cherishing the present we live in as connected humans, rather than a celebration of its own hubris.
Volition is an exceptional genre flick with a shit ton of ideas and the limitless heart to express them in a way that charms rather than bulldozes.”
Volition uses its protagonist’s clairvoyance to take the clash of free will and determinism for a twistily divergent ride
By Anton Bitel 25-08-19 20,777
“They say when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes,” says James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) in voice-over at the beginning of Volition. “I wish it were that simple.”
James is practically announcing that this film, directed by Tony Dean Smith and co-written with his brother Ryan Smith, is a chronicle of a death foretold. Yet James is gifted, or cursed, with the ability to see clear glimpses of the future, while his knowledge of his own past is decidedly lacunose. Filtered through James’ uniquely ‘entangled’ perspective, chronology in Volition moves in mysterious ways.”This lousy life has played out before,” as James puts it, “and somehow I’m stuck watching the re-run.” Even the film’s title is confrontational and counterintuitive, given that James’ clairvoyance implies a deterministic universe where free will is a mere illusion. We all know that we are going to die. The problem for James is that he has a pretty clear idea where, when and how he is going to die. The death itself – and its circumstances – seems immutable.
James’ foreknowledge gives him an edge over others – an edge that make him an asset for his criminal associates – but it is also an edge that he is unable fully to exploit, because his exploitation of it is already written. All that matters, all that gives his life meaning, is the gaps in his premonitions, the events that he does not foresee. Short on cash, James has a ‘chance’ encounter with Angela (Magda Apanowicz) – in a universe where there is perhaps no chance, only hard causality – and knows that they are going to have a relationship. Moments later James is called to gangster Ray (John Cassini), who offers him ten thousand dollars to find safe passage for a bag full of blood diamonds worth millions.
Needless to say, things will go belly up, as Ray’s muscle Sal (Frank Cassini) and Terry (Aleks Paunovic) decide to betray their boss, steal the diamonds and make their own fortune. “We do this right,” Sal tells Terry, “everything changes.” James sees this coming – indeed, sees his own death – leading him to flee with Angela to the home of his foster father Elliot (Bill Marchant), where things become very complicated, and Volition veers into TimeCrimes territories.
James is prescient, but not omniscient – and it is the gaps in his knowledge that represent the ambiguous space in which the plot of Volition can complicate itself, even find room to break free of its own carefully delineated confines. The great irony is that a film of this kind must be closely plotted (once you get your head around what is going on), but its characters come across as real and random in their interactions. That inscrutable interplay between tight scripting and apparent improvisation reflects the film’s central philosophical dilemma about free will.
Volition is, in a way, a film about its own writing, and the unusual detours that writers can take in pursuit of what they initially conceive as a fixed idea with a prescribed ending. James’ childhood sketchbooks, and the elaborate diagrams that he draws on his wall, are like the post-it notes that writers arrange and rearrange as they plan out the details and interconnections in their screenplay, where revisions are no less important than plot outlines, and where each deviation creates a different, parallel world. As the Smith Brothers work their way through this paradoxical conundrum, the result is Volition itself, an ingenious product as much of optimistic will as of entrapping design, with a miraculous, impossible ending.
Volition was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.
Volition review: Prepare to get your mind scrambled in intriguing, multi-layered sci-fi: Volition.
“Volition catapults the Smith brothers to the top of the filmmakers-to-watch list.”
James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) is a young man with clairvoyant abilities. He makes his living making petty bets and occasionally helping out the local crime contingent. After being drafted in to help on a new job, James accidentally stumbles across the sequence of events that will lead to his death. James, with help from new friend Angela (Magda Apanowicz), must try to piece together the riddle of his life as he tries to alter his future.
‘They say when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. If only it were that simple.’ These are the opening words to Volition, words that themselves reflect the film as it isn’t as simple as it first sounds. Much like Looper and Twelve Monkeys, this is a film that has more to it than meets the eye. The premise that we’ve set out may to some degree sound a little like Nic Cage’s Next, but trust me, there’s a hidden depth to be enjoyed with Volition.
The story is the key to Volition‘s success. Sibling duo Tony Dean Smith (who also directs) and Ryan W. Smith have clearly spent a lot of time and effort trying to achieve the perfect balance of several elements. All of their hard work pays off, and it’s a very special moment once the penny drops as to what is really going on. One that demonstrates the duo’s writing talents, and great promise for future projects.
Visually, Volition has echoes of early David Fincher; think Seven meets The Game, as well as Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys. The style adds a layer of gritty realism to the film, helping to make it a grounded science-fiction story such as Looper and The Terminator. The score is suitably moody and compliments what is unfolding on screen beautifully.
At the centre of the film, as with (in my opinion) all good science-fiction, is a burgeoning love story. James is immediately drawn to Angela and the two hit it off instantly. It’s compelling viewing watching their relationship develop as it tries to overcome some insurmountable obstacles. The chemistry between McMorran and Apanowicz sizzles, making the pair seem all the more tangible as real people. All this combines to have the viewer willing them to overcome the difficulties laid out for them.
A science-fiction film that has a lot to offer, Volition definitely encourages repeat viewings to fully appreciate all the intricacies and secrets buried within.
Volition was reviewed at Arrow Video Frightfest 2019.
|SUMMARY: An intricately structured compelling science fiction tale that offers up some interesting ideas and debates, Volition catapults the Smith brothers to the top of the filmmakers-to-watch list.||4/5|
August 25, 2019
Written by Tony Dean Smith, Ryan W Smith
Directed by Tony Dean Smith
VOLITION throws you into the nightmare world of James. His gift of clairvoyance is more of a curse given he discovered his magic powers when he had a vision of his mother’s death and did nothing about it – that’s naturally led to a lifetime of regret. He’s cooped up in his apartment, one wall, inexplicably covered in notes and reminders like Guy Pierce’s body in MEMENTO. He’s late with his rent and his landlord is busting his balls for the money. His way of making money is to use his special skills to help a small time gangster mitigate risks through James’s visions of the caper in the future. Problem is, this time James doesn’t envisage evading the law when fencing a pouch of diamonds, he witnesses his own death.
Free will to live his life just got compromised with knowing his own fate. This sends James off on a manic journey of trying to find the fork in the road where he can go a different way and not die. His pursuit of a new future is complicated by the threat of a pair of thugs who want to steal the diamonds from him and their paranoid boss who presumes James is robbing the valuable swag. On this surface information, VOLITION, plays out like a Dashiel Hammett novel and James proves himself to be a hardboiled punching bag that never knows he’s beat. One particular scuffle sees him find an unlikely ally in the shape of Angela. She’s new in town, but there’s a sense of déjà vu when they first meet.
The problem of his imminent death continues to hang heavy so the pair of them escape town and seek solace in Elliot, the professor who knows about James’s unique affliction. From here time and space become relative as the treatment Elliot administers shifts reality so that James gets to repeat recent past events. It quickly mushrooms into a complicated series of butterfly effects that tweak and alter the past, present and future. The mania spewed onto the wall begins to mean something. His apartment, especially the design of it, becomes a metaphor for his dilemma.
The urgent knocks on the door are like the past catching up with him – so there’s no going back. The only future he can have is out the back of his home and onto the roof, but that represents the unknown path to his demise. Tony Dean Smith expertly keeps many story plates spinning in order to combine the pace of the crime thriller in progress with the sci-fi mystery VOLITION reveals itself to be. When the fragmented pieces of truth he’s given you begin to fit together the cerebral slight of hand of the Smith brothers script come into their own a la COHERENCE or THE INVITATION. You’ll feel smarter for the experience of watching it.