“The Discovery” Movie Review

Oh yeah, we’ve got even more reviews of Netflix films are coming to you all this week. Trying to cram in some last minute spots as the year begins to come to a close. Just wish it was a better movie that I started out with. Released on the streaming giant on March 31st, 2017, this dystopian science-fiction romance premiered out of competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival- one of many purchases made by Netflix this year. The film marks the second feature film of writer-director Charlie McDowell, who had previously made the sci-fi thriller The One I Love. With this film, it could be argued that McDowell is creating a sustained filmography of high concept futuristic dystopias-that all goe to video-on-demand, that is. The story is set in the near-future where a scientist named Thomas Harbor, played by Robert Redford, has made a breakthrough that proves the existence of the afterlife. This unintentionally leads to an all-time high rate of suicides around the world, which causes his son Will, played by Jason Segel, to alienate himself from the family. After he meets a mysterious woman named Isla, they both set out to find out more about Harbor’s discovery and the implications it could have for the world. From the description I just gave you, you could go one of two ways. First, one might think that The Discovery is one of the more original and cerebral science-fiction pictures of recent years. But another, then, might retort that it is an unofficial feature-length episode of the British anthology series Black Mirror. (Which itself has feature-length episodes) I’d be willing to entertain both arguments because the premise is quite fascinating. And it opens up on a promising note with a rather brilliant prologue that teases something truly unique and special. But when the movie ends, that’s all it apparently reveals itself as: a 102 minute-long tease. The movie evidently tries to infuse some religious themes into the narrative every now and then. Being about the afterlife, this makes sense. Science vs religion isn’t really a new topic in the genre, but in the case of this movie, they really do try to put in some thought and time to it. “What kind of atheist talks to God?” a cynical Will Harbor says as some characters take part in a group prayer. This is a decently powerful question that doesn’t seem to get much of a payoff. When it comes to the acting department, it’s a really mixed bag. Jason Segel is a very funny and warm actor, but he feels miscast as a severely unhappy man. He spends the majority of his screentime moping around this dreary future just like everyone else seems to be doing. In contrast, Robert Redford and Jesse Plemons do fine work as his father and brother, respectively. They both really feel like a father and son duo with a sense of uncertainty and distrust among them, despite their charismatic outward appearances. Rooney Mara rounds out the main cast as the primary love interest Isla. She’s okay, but her chemistry with Segel falls flat in every scene they’re together. Technically speaking, The Discovery is rather singular. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography evokes something that David Fincher might have directed, with steady shots of characters in almost every scenario. Nearly every shot is dark or toned down to look even bleaker. The color palette, meanwhile, is absolutely grey and cold like it belongs in the winter. Textures are muted, too, all to contribute to a seemingly grim and hopeless future our world will inevitably lead to. The musical score also deserves some commentary. Composed by Danny Bansi and Saunder Juriaans, most of the soundtrack consists of mellow piano melodies and low strings like cellos. They are most prominent in scenes of major emotional pull but are usually put in the background. It helped further enhance the melancholy mood of the overall story, never once over-intensifying for manipulation. The film also ends with the song “Arrival in Nara” by the band alt-J which felt appropriate for the gloomy feeling that permeates throughout. I can’t imagine myself rushing out to iTunes to pick up the soundtrack, but I enjoyed it as it went on in the moment. But where the film falters most is its story. Like I said, the opening prologue is very well-crafted and set up the rest of the movie to be a potentially interesting commentary on desires. Yet it felt like Charlie McDowell and co-writer Justin Lader came up with a really great concept but didn’t quite know where to take it. That’s because the film ends in unsatisfyingly familiar territory that feels like a disservice to what it began as. Maybe that’s because the characters aren’t really worth rooting for. They’re hard to connect with and none of them are really compelling enough to get invested in. All the setup early on seems like their arcs are going somewhere and they just don’t. As the end credits rolled, I sat on my couch feeling unsatisfied by their journey and wished something more could have been done. That’s what The Discovery is. The beautiful aesthetic and concept are bogged down by a meager script and detached character interactions. It starts out promising but ends up becoming a frustration in the lack of interest in its own story. It could have been so much more and wound up being a hollow and uninspired mess. Not necessarily bad. Just a wasted opportunity.

Image result for the discovery

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