Sci-fi/crime thriller, not rated, 91 minutes, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV, and other digital platforms, 3.5 chiles
When the landlord comes knocking on his door, James (Adrian Glynn McMorran) knows he’s just hours away from being evicted. If he places a winning bet on a boxing match that day, he’ll have enough money for the rent. James already knows the outcome of the match because he’s clairvoyant. His visions come in dreamlike bursts, intruding into his consciousness — sometimes hours, sometimes mere moments before the events he sees in his mind actually occur.
Volition is a gritty, crime-laced sci-fi thriller that grabs you from the start. It won the Best SciFi Feature award at the 2019 Shriekfest. The story, penned by brothers Tony Dean Smith, who also directs, and Ryan W. Smith, is in the vein of David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone (1983), but its thought-provoking twists and turns are something that might have come from the mind of science fiction author Phillip K. Dick. What’s plaguing James isn’t his psychic impressions of others but visions of his own murder.
McMorran’s character owes more to the film noir antiheroes of the past than it does to most protagonists of the recent science fiction genre. “It doesn’t mean I’m special or anything,” he says of his ESP, which he regards as an affliction. “It just means this lousy life has played out before. Somehow, I’m stuck watching the rerun.” This is the moment when a noir lead like Dana Andrews or Humphrey Bogart would light up a cigarette and pull on a bottle of whiskey. And that’s what James does.
But he doesn’t cut a dashing figure, like a noir protagonist, his face half-hidden by the brim of a fedora. He’s gaunt, unshaven, and bleary-eyed. James is haunted by a death he foresaw in his youth but was powerless to prevent. Now, he takes to petty crime like it was a kind of self-punishment. But James is likable, even when he’s in the midst of a con.
James agrees to exchange some hot diamonds for cash for a man named Ray ( John Cassini), a former crime associate who openly exploits James’ gift for his own profit. It’s a scenario that’s ripe for a double-cross. Before long, the stolen diamonds get stolen, and James is set up to take the fall.
Complicating things further is James’ newfound relationship with Angela (Magda Apanowicz), a woman he rescued from an attempted assault, and his visions of his own demise. Not knowing when the events he foresees are going to take place and having no control over when they occur make for an intriguing setup. If every vision he has comes true, why should one about his death — or those he loves — be any different?
Psychic visions aside, most of this is standard fare for a crime thriller. But you’ll never see where Volition is really heading. Suffice it to say that the film leads the viewer down a Möbius strip of crossing time paths. In the guise of a thriller, and a taut one at that, Volition is a philosophical film that ponders questions like whether or not our fates are predestined or if we have free will. It’s light on the science behind the events that unfold, but it’s big on ideas.