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.
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.
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.
UK PREMIERE – VOLITION Sci-Fi Thriller
Director: Tony Dean Smith. With: Adrian Glynn McMorran, Magda Apanowicz, John Cassini, Aleks Paunovic. Canada 2019. 91 mins.
James the clairvoyant gets himself involved with dodgy diamonds to pay his rent. When he glimpses premonitions of his own bloody demise he must make choices that would give Einstien a stress migraine. Can he and Elliot, the cardigan-wearing motherfucker, knit together fragments of his future in time to thwart his deadly destiny?
This punchy and streamlined head-scratcher relies hard on twists and reveals. Subsequently, I will steer away from anything that may dilute the pleasure of having your head fucked with, as the element of surprise is one of the flicks main strengths.
Volition does a marvellous job of enticing us along on its curveball journey with economic exposition and breviloquent dialogue. Too many films of this genre end up smashing the audience over the head with science until they are battered into compliance. Whilst the amount of care poured into this project is evident it never ties itself in knots, a massive compliment for a plot this complex. That being said, you will be cut adrift like a spacewalking accident if you nip to the toilet at the wrong time.
The film looks and sounds glossy and polished and the team of editors, and you will see why they needed more than one, do an incredible job of gelling the film. Without their skilful cinematic weaving things could have gone south very quickly.
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.
Opening recently at FrightFest 2019 this past August, Volition, directed to perfection by Tony Dean Smith (The Killer Downstairs 2019) and co-written with his brother, Ryan W. Smith (Next Gen 2018), is a brainy and brilliant crime thriller. The film stars Adrian Glynn McMorran (Arrow TV series), Magda Apanowicz (The Green Inferno 2013), John Cassini (Se7en 1995), Frank Cassini (Timecop 1994), Aleks Paunovic (War For The Planet Of The Apes 2017), and Bill Marchant (Chappie 2015).
A man afflicted with clairvoyance tries to change his fate when a series of events leads to a vision of his own imminent murder.
Volition opens with the main character, James (Glynn McMorran), saying in a voice over: “They say when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. I wish it were that simple.” James has a gift, you see, to foretell the future in glimpses, enough to allow him to be of use to his criminal associates. But he doesn’t have any real control over it.
This an interesting irony considering the film’s title, because the word “volition” means: the power to make your own decisions. But in James’ world, the future seems set, and he’s just stuck watching it play out. He soon gets a job from a gangster to ensure the safe moving of some diamonds. He also has a chance encounter with a woman (Apanowicz) that he had seen in flashes, so he knows they are connected. Things do not go as planned, leading James to see his own death in one of his visions. Now, he must decide whether he should try to change what is already written.
The way that Volition is written reminds me a bit of Inception (2010) crossed with Memento (2000). The film flashes forward and crosses back on itself as James attempts to alter his fate again and again.
As a college student, I was obsessed with the writings of Thomas Hardy, whose characters would vainly struggle against a terrible fate that they were destined for. And no matter how long, how hard, and how nobly they struggled, they could never escape it. Much like a Hardy protagonist, James seems hurtling towards certain death. The difference is that, in James’ world, he knows what is coming, but can he do anything to change his fate? Or is he just another doomed character?
Needless to say, I am wildly impressed with Volition. It’s been a long time since a film has made me think so much about the nature of fate and free will. It also had a level of the unexpected that surprised me. You will absolutely believe the film is going a certain direction, and then midway through, there is a clever twist that will change everything. The writing and crafting of Volition is just masterful, insuring that each and every part keeps the whole puzzle standing. It’s an incredible feat that you must see to fully appreciate. The acting is fantastic, with Glynn McMorran doing an sensational job as the doomed man struggling to stay alive. I was also impressed with the solid presence of the always wonderful Bill Marchant.
This isn’t a film that will blow you away with action, but for a mind-bending great time, you absolutely cannot miss Volition.