The Spierig brothers have a wonderful shared imagination. (am i twin stereotyping?) They’ve given us very unique twists on the zombie film with Undead and on the vampire film with Daybreakers. Despite some flaws, both of those movies are testament to the directors’ creativity and vision. With 2014’s Predestination, they’ve turned that vision toward adapting another visionary artist’s work for the screen. (they’ve visioned their visions using visions) Robert Heinlein’s lesser-known short story, “All You Zombies”, serves as the basis for this story of time travel and mind-bendery. You may be thinking, “Hey, wait! Time travel and mind-bendery don’t make for horror by themselves!” And you’d be right. Predestination is not horror. It’s sci-fi. But it’s weird and fun and thought-provoking, so I’m going to review it. (besides, Wolfman told me, ‘your blog, your rules!’ to support my decision and/or wash his hands of my decision) Before we move on, I need to manage your synopsis expectations a bit. I’m not going to go too far into detail on the story or time travel in general. If I do, we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws. (reference!)
The Barkeep is not a barkeep. Well, not always. Or not really anyway. (i know, it’s confusing already. just stick with it) He’s a time traveling police-type posing as a barkeep for now. (think Timecop without the muscular ass and sexy accent) Well, not NOW-now. “Now” 1970. (maybe the straws would be easier) He’s been assigned by HQ (based in 1985) to take down the “Fizzle Bomber”, a mad bomber type who’s responsible for killing hundreds over the years. Barkeep is particularly eager to stop the madman from planting a bomb that kills thousands in New York in the future. Well, not THE future. The “future” 1975, which is in HQ(1985)’s past. One night at the bar, a slight man with feminine features comes in for a drink and the two strike up a conversation during which the man tells Barkeep that he was born and raised in an orphanage as a girl named Jane. (with girl parts) She was ugly and introverted though, so she learned to fight and spent a lot of time reading (respectively). This drew the attention of a man recruiting for a space agency when she was aging out of the orphanage (1963). This being 1963, she wasn’t being called on to be a full-fledged astronaut despite her obvious physical and mental qualifications. No. She was recruited as a potential space prostitute for the hard-working men astronauts who would otherwise go space crazy from backed up space jizz on long space flights (oh, Heinlein). She was willing to make the sacrifice for the adventure of space travel. For a couple of reasons though, she is denied a position at the agency and ends up in a charm school. There she meets a stranger that she immediately falls in love with. (i know – ‘with whom she falls’ – but i’m keeping it conversational) Stranger impregnates her and disappears. She has a complicated delivery. Like, VERY complicated. It turns out that she has both male and female internal reproductive organs. The delivery destroyed her female parts, so the docs drop the “you’re a man now” bomb on her (externally a man too after a few surgeries and hormone therapy). To make matters worse, her baby is stolen right out of the hospital nursery! Now (1964ish) she’s a childless dude with no dude skills and a seething anger at the world. She uses her unique perspective to carve out a niche writing “confessions” stories under the penname “Unmarried Mother”. Back in 1970, Barkeep, after hearing his/her life story, offers him (ok, i’m not sure what the person identifies as since he seems to resent the transition, but i’m going with ‘him’ now) a chance to exact revenge on the absentee father that sent his life into a downward spiral. He’s all for it but is he ready to travel through time to do it? (yes, he is)
The Spierigs have come a long way since the very low-budget look of Undead. This film (and Daybreakers) looks great. Several shots reminded me of Alex Proyas’s Dark City and I, Robot – beautiful, deep color and contrast/overhead establishing shots. That’s not to say it’s derivative. The directors fill the frame with warm earth tones and swirling smoke and debris that is all their own. Despite the premise, this is not an effects heavy film. Not digital effects anyway. The makeup effects are nearly ever-present but easily overlooked as effects. That’s a good thing. So it looks good and it’s tightly edited (no small feat with time travel), but is it a good story? Yes. Mostly. It does have its flaws and weird Heinlein sex stuff. There are some logical leaps and the very nature of the story is confusing. The policing agency in particular seemed like an inspiration for a lot of Philip K. Dick stories, but that’s a also good thing. Overall, it’s an impressively clever time travel tale. Admittedly, I was ahead of most of the twists and turns by a beat or two, but even then I was pleased by how cleverly it all played out. And the three main leads played their parts very well indeed. Especially, Sarah Snook who plays a beautiful young woman and a downtrodden man equally skillfully. So, in all, it’s a solid sci-fi mysteryish thriller-type film that’s worth a watch if you’re into that sort of thing. (if you’re looking for gore and horror with your sci-fi, maybe watch Undead instead)
The Final Cut: Predestination is a beautifully shot sci-fi mind-bender that features some great performances and clever storylines.