“I know where I came from, but where did all you zombies come from.” – Robert A. Heinlein, All You Zombies
Predestination is both an intriguing and terrifying concept. On the one hand, you are given a reprieve from some of your mistakes in life. After all, if they were predestined to occur, you really had no choice in the matter. You are absolved. On the other hand, to succumb to the theory of predestination is to succumb to the thought or realization that you never had a choice in anything you have done, are doing or will do throughout your life. You are simply a cog in the machine with a specific job and purpose. A zombie, if you will.
This latest effort from the Australian filmmaking duo The Spierig Brothers (Undead, Daybreakers) is a mostly low key and surprisingly intimate sci-fi thriller that deals with the above themes through the usage of time travel and the examination of paradoxes. Furthermore, Predestination is an adaptation of the classic Heinlein story quoted above. I wish they had gone for a catchier title, but the original one would have caused a lot of confusion and misconceptions. The one we have? Well, it’s a bit plain, but simple and direct and sometimes that can be a good thing.
The somewhat complex nature of the plot and its main characters, both wonderfully portrayed by Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke, make it almost impossible for me to discuss the story at hand without slipping into spoiler territory, so we’ll just skip that. If you know the source material then you know the story, as it is fairly faithful. If not, all you really need to know is that there is a secret agency that uses time travel to right past wrongs and Hawke’s character has been tasked with stopping the heinous acts of a bomber who ran amok in this tale’s alternate version of the 1970s.
The completion of his mission also necessitates the education and training of a new recruit. The majority of the film is centered on these two characters and a flashback-filled conversation they share in a diner in said past. That might sound a little tame and boring, but trust me it isn’t. The writing and the character work are more than enough to make it captivating.
Working from a budget not much higher than their scrappy debut and literally twenty times less than their last effort, the world-building and budget stretching that the directors have managed to accomplish here is extremely impressive. Predestination looks better than most films that I saw in theaters last year and for a mere fraction of the cost. They might not have had the resources to craft a new, singular vision of the past, present, and future that they are showcasing, but what they have managed is striking enough in its own right to leave an impression. Limitations rarely rear their head and what we are left with is a unique little film that tells a complete story.
There are no threads left hanging for sequels or concepts introduced solely to tease any kind of follow-up. This is a one and done project and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see such a thing in this particular genre. I’m sure this lack of franchisable elements, alongside its headier than usual concepts, has contributed greatly to it receiving a rather miniscule day-and-date limited theatrical and on demand release here in the States. That’s about par for the course when it comes to small-scale originality these days, sadly. I can only hope that it too receives the kind of late bloomer attention that films like Cold in July, Blue Ruin and The Guest are now being granted. It very much deserves it.