Time travel is hard to portray, whether it’s in film, a book or even just in a conversation. Which doesn’t stop lots of writers from using time travel as a story element. But if I can go back in time, can’t I change things that would affect my very existence, which then negates my ability to go back in time and make that change in the first place? Not to mention jumping into the future!
One strategy that a number of films and series have taken has villains traveling back in time to alter the future for their own benefit and good guys, time cops if you will, sent back to remedy the problem. On the kitsch side is the daft Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Timecop (1994) while on the smart side is the quite splendid Spanish series El Ministerio del Tiempo (2015-).
In both cases, the assumption is that time is not fixed. Life is not predetermined, so people going back in time can indeed change the future. it’s the so-called butterfly effect. But what if it turns out that life actually is completely deterministic and there’s nothing you can do to affect the outcome of future events? That’s the world of Volition, a new indie sci-fi film about time travel that does a surprisingly smart job addressing these conundrums.
The film revolves around low-life crook James Odin (Adrian Glynn McMorran) who’s been cursed with prescience. Not all the time, and not necessarily when it’s useful for him to see into the future, just sporadically he can see something that’s going to happen in the future. Whatever he does, however, it seems to happen anyway. Most fatefully including when he sees the imminent death of his mother as a young child. But if you can’t actually change the future, is there really any benefit in seeing what’s going to occur?
Odin’s a bit of a loser, making a living off crude hustles and petty crimes, along with occasionally counseling the local hoods on the outcome of their potential crimes. Until he sees a vision of his own murder. When? Where? How can he stop this outcome and ensure that he doesn’t end up on a cold slab at the morgue? He meets Angela (Magda Apanowicz), a young woman who features prominently in his visions. But who is she and how does she relate to the his imminent demise?
Volition really runs with this idea of prescient visions in a deterministic world, though it’s not until about halfway through that things pick up and you realize you’re watching a sci-fi thriller rather than just a low-budget indie crime movie. Stick with it, though, because once the plot revs up, there’s a lot going on and a surprisingly intricately plotted story. As with all time travel films, attentive viewers are rewarded for paying close attention to the film starting in the very first few minutes.
This is one of writer and director Tony Dean Smith’s first feature films, though he’s done a half-dozen TV movies. The pacing of a movie that is going to have commercial interruptions every 12 minutes and a cinematic release where you have someone’s undivided attention for the entire film are entirely different. And that’s a problem here. I really enjoyed Volition once it got started, but that first portion is really slow. Almost ‘let’s watch something else’ too slow. A bit more foreshadowing or an on-camera con or hustle that confirms Odin really can see into the future would alleviate this. But that’s for the rewrite, perhaps.
In the meantime, I’ll still recommend Volition, now available on various streaming services, as a solid, smart and thoughtful sci-fi time travel thriller from a skilled team of indie filmmakers. Continue the fun with another great time travel indie afterwards too, Primer (2004). You’ll thank me. Or perhaps you already did?
Dad at the Movies Note: Volition’s setting and characters are all basically thugs, so the language is coarse and colorful, as is the casual violence. Not for the pre-teen set, definitely, and perhaps not for younger teens either.