The poster feels a bit too Star Wars for Vesper, a melancholy, arty but highly impressive movie that skews more towards the Margaret Atwood end of sci-fi. Played by Raffiella Chapman with considerable intensity, Vesper is a 13 year old girl growing up in a futuristic world ravaged by unsuccessful attempt at modifying genes; Atwood’s Oryx and Crake sprang to mind. Directors Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper spent six years making this bleak yet lush-looking drama, one that feels more like a fable than an epic, but good in terms of originality and discipline.
We first see Vesper with her flying drone, one that embodies her stricken father Darius (Richard Brake), who lies in a bed at home, but able to communicate via the flying robot. Vesper is searching for a genetic cure in a world where genetics have gone wrong; animals are only seen in storybooks, and Vesper is able to fashion curative poultices as an amateur biologist. Vesper does this under the eye of Verper’s uncle (Eddie Marsan) who leads a ragtag bunch of survivors with an iron fist. They are the have-nots; in an elsewhere realm known as the Citadel, the haves (or oligarchs) live in style, although we don’t see that side of things. One day, a low-flying craft leaving from the unseen Citadel level crashes near Vesper, the pilot doesn’t live long, but his companion does; she’s Camellia (Rosy McEwan). But who or exactly what is Camellia?
Vesper is a fairly absorbing slice of brainy-sci-fi that pictures a hardscrabble future in which we see only one small community, but that’s revealing enough. Even the opposition to the patriarchy has a patriarchy, and Vesper has her work cut out just to keep her humble research into the properties of seeds going. At times, the rhythms of Vesper’s day have the feel of the Dardenne Brothers Rosetta, endlessly edging her way forwards in thought but still at home contemplating escape.
Not all the tech, or biotech, is fully comprehensible on a first watch, and some of the passages of narrative feel a little dry and humourless, but the visuals are always appealing, and a clear amount of care has gone into capturing what such a society might feel like to live in. Tapping into current anxieties about genetic engineering, Vesper turns out to be an unexpectedly smart sci-fi drama.
Signature Entertainment presents Vesper in UK Cinemas and Digital from 21st October 2022.
Thanks to Signature for early access to this title.