Directed by The Spierig Brothers
A couple of years ago a colleague was raving about this movie but couldn’t tell me what it was about. I’m going to be a pain in the arse and do the exact same thing. I’m sorry, but if you don’t already know the story the Spierig brother’s 2014 movie is the sort of movie critics hate to write about. Same time, it’s one I bloody love. You see, you can easily say too much about Predestination. To go into the story properly is to spoil it, so I’ll keep things purposefully vague. Based on a short story by Robert A. Heinlein, this is a tough one to describe in basic terms and make sound good. However, at its most basic level Ethan Hawke plays a temporal agent i.e. an officer that can travel through time to prevent crimes. In this case, he is attempting to prevent a mysterious criminal, named The Fizzle Bomber, from launching a deadly attack on New York City set to kill thousands.
The mission takes him behind a bar, where among his clientele is an androgynous-looking man (Snook) who makes a living writing for magazine under the name The Unmarried Mother. Against the backdrop of impending doom he promises to tell “the best story that you ever heard”. What follows is a surprisingly character focused sci-fi thriller that starts slowly, with a prolonged two way conversation and flashback. This then gives way to an equally captivating second half full of unexpected events and neat developments. During which paradoxes and the effects of time-travel on the brain are taken to their logical limit.
As I said at the start, I’d been recommended the movie before. The sounds of it never grabbed me though – I’d assumed it was some sort of dull action movie in the mould of Equilibrium or a bad version of 12 Monkeys. But I can’t emphasise enough that it’s not like either of them. Rather, Predestination is a much more thoughtful piece of speculative sci-fi that’s not afraid to take narrative risks. Luckily the script is airtight, with some noir seasoning on some serious dramatic meat. For the most part it’s naturalistic dialogue, which helps to keep the strange story it tells grounded in reality. That even the silliest, most unlikely parts of the plot avoid lapsing into kitsch parody, or so-bad-it’s-good fodder for stoners, is a testament to how incredibly well written it is.
It’s also well put together. My last encounter with the Spierig brothers was the vampiric action romp Daybreakers (also featuring Hawke). And whilst that was a mediocre popcorn movie in need of a solid script, it had some good visual flourishes. Aesthetically, Predestination is of similar calibre with a modest budget being stretched. The film’s story spans several decades and they do a commendable job capturing the look and feel of them all. The pacing is also exemplary, with the directorial duel knowing when to take a character moment and how to do high octane set pieces. Towards the end, as the timeline becomes more and more messed up, the scenes become frantic and disjointed. However, even the bits of it you don’t quite get first time (and you will want to watch it a second) you still feel. There’s a solid soundtrack, a great props/ costume team and some inspiring cinematography. That they’re doing Jigsaw is the only thing that makes me think the eighth Saw movie might not be a piece of shit.
The two leads are both superb too. Ethan Hawke is at his best, with plenty of emotional weight behind his cool-guy exterior. Nowadays his name has become synonymous with offbeat and unconventional genre movies with this being no exception. Although he’s second fiddle, he’s able to provide a ballast to a tricky movie. The real stand out is Sarah Snook who delivers a truly mesmerizing performance in a very challenging, gender-bending role. Having only seen her in the so-so horror Jessabelle I had minimal expectations, but here she’s darn Oscar-worthy. Her character undergoes a number of transformations, both physically and mentally, on the way towards some plot points. In lesser hands these would be laughable. But with her they become part of a cathartic final act that’ll leave you pondering how something that sounds like nonsense could get you right in the feels.
Please note this film was already reviewed on release by Horror Cult Films – see here for Bat’s thoughts.