KVIFF 2022: Post-Apocalyptic Eco-Thriller Biohacking Sci-Fi 'Vesper'
by Alex Billington
July 6, 2022
In the growing subgenre of climate change-related science fiction cinema, filmmakers are trying to get more and more creative with ideas addressing the disastrous future Earth is headed towards (much sooner than later). One of the latest creations is Vesper, an indie post-apocalyptic sci-fi creation from Lithuania, also known as Vesper Chronicles or Vesper Seeds. The film premiered at the 2022 Karlovy Vary Film Festival in Czechia this summer after years of production & post-production work during the pandemic. The best part about Vesper is all that they pull off on a small scale, with limited resources, as it feels much bigger than it is and all of the practical FX and prosthetics are impressive. As for the film itself, it's a somewhat compelling story of a smart young woman surviving in the woods all the while trying to develop and germinate special seeds that will help humanity escape & recover from oppressive forces that control the remaining survivors.
Vesper is both written and directed by Lithuanian filmmaker Kristina Buozyte and French filmmaker / designer Bruno Samper (both of the film Vanishing Waves previously), and features an international cast with Eddie Marsan as the highlight. Raffiella Chapman stars as Vesper, a precocious 13-year-old who lives with her paralyzed father in the woods. Everything is a bit strange in this post-apocalyptic world. Her father communicates with her through a hovering robot drone, which is connected to his brain as he lies in bed unable to move. Humanity attempted to use genetic engineering to solve climate change problems, but of course it went wrong, so now all the remaining plant life is glowy and weird and can sometimes be fatal or helpful, depending on the species. Vesper made her own fake skin to heal wounds super fast, and biohacks her way into organic, seemingly-sentient vegetation. She is clearly intelligent – but can she save the world?
That is the main idea behind Vesper: with a bit of ingenuity and creativity, can someone break the cycle and disrupt the oppressive forces that control us? Maybe, but the film also never really gets there… It bites off way more than it can chew, and the story seems to be leading somewhere but never gets that far. I certainly appreciate the ambition and visuals, and there is an immense amount of originality in the world-building. But I was most let down by the way it hints at some epic showdown with these evil forces living in special bubbles, but wraps up before she gets near them – similar to the way Robert Rodriguez's Alita: Battle Angel ends. Of course, this is because they could only pull off so much with a limited budget, which it seems was hard to even put together in the first place. This was filmed mostly in Lithuania and everything about it seems so far from anything Hollywood would make, which is both a limitation and entirely refreshing to see.
As a big screen film, it is entertaining and engaging for the most part, and I'm glad I had the chance to see this one projected in a cinema. I expect most people will watch it at home or streaming on some device, and will miss out on the grandeur of the impressive small-scale VFX and world-building. The film's storyline is stretched thin at a few points, mostly because all of it takes place in this post-apocalyptic forest and they have to figure out how to give her something to do and local baddies to confront before she ventures out. The performances by Raffiella Chapman, Eddie Marsan, and Rosy McEwen as a pale, genetically-modified humanoid, are all better than they should be and make the film worthwhile. At the very least it's a vibrant science fiction thriller with some original ideas, a few good performances, and a more hopeful plot that will inspire young viewers to try and hack their own way to saving the planet. Or so I hope; we really need them.