“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.