Science fiction is a tricky genre to work in, mainly when it comes to creating a compelling story. But some franchises manage to take off thanks to the combination of well-rounded characters and breaking new boundaries in the genre. Other projects create rich and well-rounded worlds – but forget to include interesting characters in those worlds. Vesper avoids this trap by keeping its cast small, focusing on how Vesper is connected to everyone.
Vesper is directed by Kristina Buozyte & Bruno Samper; the duo also co-wrote the screenplay with Brian Clark. Years in the future, Earth has been ravaged by “a new dark age” and can barely produce food to feed its population. The wealthy have walled themselves off in giant cities called “Citadels”, leaving the rest of mankind to fend for itself. Vesper (Raffiella Chapman) is one of those foragers.
By day she travels with a drone containing the consciousness of her father Darius (Richard Brake), harvesting what she can from the ground. By night she utilizes her scientific prowess to find a way to create more sustainable crops. This all changes when a Citadel ship crash-lands near Vesper, containing a girl her age named Camillia (Rosy McEwan). Camillia strikes a deal with Vesper: if Vesper can help her find her father, she’ll take the young scavenger to the Citadel. Vesper now tends to Camillia while also avoiding the predatory goals of her uncle Jonas (Eddie Marsan).
Our titular character is fiercely loyal to her father, as he’s the one good thing in her life after her mother left. She has a tenuous relationship with Jonas; yes they’re family, but he’s always looking out for himself and doesn’t hesitate to sell her out. And she forms a bond with Camillia, despite the fact that the two are from completely different worlds. How those bonds are tested over the course of the film ends up being as interesting as bio-engineered beings and hi-tech hovercraft.
Buozyte & Samper have assembled an immensely talented cast, with Chapman as the standout. She makes Vesper a fully human being, complete with flaws and goals. Her desire to help her father ends up being an Achilles heel that other characters use to their advantage, but her belief in a better future leads to a startling discovery.
Chapman brings layers of emotion to her performance, mixing a steeling glare with watery eyes or a quiet desperation that morphs into raging fury. Marsan’s utterly terrifying as Jonas – the viewer won’t know whether he’ll offer them a seat at the dinner table or stab them in the back. And though his character is confined to a bed for the entire film, Brake is able to convey his feelings with a single glance.
The directors also create one of the most visually appealing science fiction worlds I’ve seen in a while. Most of the production design forgoes the sleek, shiny aesthetic one would expect in favor of more biological creations. Trees seem to “breathe”, with rising sacs of fungus dotted alongside their trunks. The vegetation produces killer fireflies that strike at their prey with the force of bullets.
Darius’ mind is confined to a rusty probe the size of a soccer ball that hovers alongside Vesper. But best of all, these images unfold at a steady pace, letting the audience get to know the characters as well as the world they inhabit. All of this is done with a budget that’s a fraction of the biggest blockbusters, proving that it’s the craft that truly matters when creating a great film.
Vesper delivers one of the richest, well-crafted science fiction stories in years, thanks to methodical direction and a talented cast. This is proving to be a banner year for science fiction films, and as a fan of science fiction, I couldn’t be happier.
Vesper is playing at Fantastic Fest 2022 and is available to stream now on Prime Video.
Vesper delivers one of the richest, well-crafted science fiction stories in years, thanks to methodical direction and a talented cast.
Born and raised in Texas, Collier “CJ” Jennings was introduced to geekdom at an early age by his father, who showed him Ultraman and Star Trek: The Next Generation. On his thirteenth birthday, he received a copy of Giant Size X-Men #1 and dove head first into the realm of pop culture, never looking back. His hobbies include: writing screenplays and essays, watching movies and television, card games/RPG’s, and cooking. He currently resides in Seattle.