A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: Volition (2020)

Filmmaking brothers, writers and directors Ryan W. Smith and Tony Dean Smith’s clever sci-fi thriller “Volition”, originally premiered at Fright Fest 2019 and finally gets a wide release this past weekend on Apple TV, Prime Video and other digital platforms. “Volition” is a mind bending puzzle of an endlessly twisty sci-fi thriller. It’s no wonder the clever and inventive indie film, received the Best Feature award at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival. “Volition” is that wonderful genre of mind-bending science fiction made on a limited budget that in no way risks the brilliant creativity at hand. The Smith brothers, expertly handles the films great ideas and concepts and delivers a well-polished effort despite their budgetary limitations. The propulsive pacing will keep even the less attentive viewers engrossed, while those following the plot’s twists will be rewarded. The films first act plays like an indie crime-thriller from filmmakers who have seen Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” a few too many times. In the second act, the brothers take inspiration from Ethan Hawke’s “Predestination” and give us a very special moment during the twist drop, to reveal what is really going on. It’s one of many moments that demonstrates the duo’s writing talents and evidence of a great promise for future projects. “Volition” is an elaborate cinematic puzzle box that requires the utmost concentration to decipher. It’s all packed within a tightly paced 88 minute runtime, that lets the brothers reach for and grasp big time science fiction ideas and bend it with a fresh, new approach.

Volition – (noun) the faculty or power of using one’s will.

Filmmaking brothers, writers and directors Ryan W. Smith and Tony Dean Smith’s clever thriller “Volition”, landed July 10th on Apple TV, Prime Video and other digital platforms, where it should continue to be as well-received, as it has been on the genre-festival circuit. One half of the Smith brothers, Tony Dean directs the sci-fi thriller, as an endlessly twisty, mind-bending puzzle. It’s no wonder the clever and inventive indie film, premiered at Fright Fest 2019 and received the Best Feature award at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival.

Categorized as a “lo-fi, sci-fi” film. “Volition” is that wonderful genre of mind-bending science fiction made on a limited budget that in no way risks the creativity at hand. The South African filmmaking brothers, make “Volition” their feature debut. The Smith brothers, expertly handles the films great ideas and concepts and delivers a well-polished effort despite their budgetary limitations. The propulsive pacing will keep even the less attentive viewers engrossed, while those following the plot’s twists will be rewarded.

“They say when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. If only it were that simple”. These are the opening words to “Volition”, it’s choice words that reflect the film, letting you know that what you’re about to watch isn’t as simple as it seems. 

James (Adrian Glynn McMorran, TV’s “The Flash”) has been struggling with clairvoyance ever since he was young. As an adult, James uses these visionary fragments in order to avoid paying his late rent to his impatient landlord, swipe cigarettes from unsuspecting strangers on the street, and get ahead in small time bets at the local bar. While trying to scrounge the few hundred dollars he owes before he’s evicted, his path crosses with Angela (Magda Apanowicz, “The Green Inferno”) and his outlook on life suddenly changes. 

As James is pulled back into the criminal life he’s tried to distance himself from by a residential crime lord named Ray (John Cassini, Seven). Ray intends to use James’ visionary attributes in order to make millions off of a bag of diamonds. James would make a profit of $100,000 and he has a vision of the hand-off going without a hitch, so naturally it seems like easy money. But his quick payday disintegrates when James sees himself dying in the not too distant future. With nowhere else to go, James turns to a scientist named Elliot (Bill Marchant, “Chappie”) who is the only man that helped him after his mother died.

Once “Volition” hits the 30-40 minute mark, is where “Volition” starts to unveil how good it really is. The Smith brothers have clearly spent a lot of time and effort trying to achieve the perfect balance of several elements. All of their hard work pays off, after the first act that plays like an indie crime-thriller from filmmakers who have seen Christopher Nolan’s “Memento” a few too many times. In the second act, the brothers give us a very special moment once the twist drops to reveal what is really going on. It’s one of many moments that demonstrates the duo’s writing talents and evidence of a great promise for future projects.

I’m trying to be deliberately vague about the film’s plot, because when that plot twist happens it’s the film’s biggest strength and starts to unfold the film at a break neck pace. While it immediately makes the movie more interesting, it can also make things a bit more confusing. Visually, “Volition” has echoes of early David Fincher; think “Seven” and “The Game”, as well as Terry Gilliam’s “Twelve Monkeys”. The styles of Fincher and Gilliam, adds a layer of gritty realism to the film, helping to make it a grounded modern science-fiction story like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s “Looper”.  

The brothers “Volition” has some greats ideas and concepts, as the movie they channel and get inspired by the most is the Spierig brothers 2014, Ethan Hawke film “Predestination”. The Smith brothers film come the closest in terms of tone and concepts of the Spierig brothers film. Much like “Predestination”. The Smiths “Volition” becomes an elaborate cinematic puzzle box that require the utmost concentration to decipher. 

Adrian McMorran’s character James is a scruffier version of Sam Rockwell, both lean and thin, a bit malnourished, sporting unkempt rows of hair and looks to need a few more hours of sleep. McMorran and the cast is full of actors you’ve never heard of before, but may have seen in the background or in minuscule roles in big budget films.

Like any memorable sci-fi story, the movie’s foundation is grounded with the human condition and begins with an engaging crime story, that elevates into a twisty mind-bender, that explores both philosophy and quantum physics. It is all packed within a tightly paced 88-minute runtime.  The brothers reach for and grasp big time science-fiction ideas and bend it with a fresh, new approach.

“Volition” comes off as a more polished low budget film, but one where once the twist comes they just keep coming and requires attention, as the events move quickly. “Volition” goes from a straight-forward, crime gone wrong chase movie to a high concept puzzle box of a sci-fi thriller that takes astonishing and brilliant conceptual turns. These filmmaking brothers are ones to watch. 

GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4/5)


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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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