'Vesper' looks for hope in a world that's bio-engineered nature out of existence In the sci-fi drama Vesper, the title character is a 13 year old bio-hacker who lives in a future where humankind has wiped out all edible plants.


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In a bio-engineered dystopia, 'Vesper' finds seeds of hope

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Hollywood apocalypses come in all shapes and sizes - you know, zombified, post-nuclear, even plague-ridden. But critic Bob Mondello says a new eco fable called "Vesper" weaves together strands from lots of earlier sci-fi films into something that feels eerily new.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: In a misty bog so bleak and lifeless, it almost seems to have been filmed in black and white, a volleyball-like orb floats into view with a face crudely painted on it. Behind it sloshes 13-year-old Vesper scavenging for food or something useful for her biohacking.


RICHARD BRAKE: (As Darius) You're wasting our time on these experiments.

MONDELLO: Vesper is a loner, but as you can hear, she's not alone. That floating orb contains the consciousness of her father, who is bedridden in their shack with a sack of bacteria doing his breathing for him. So Vesper talks to the orb and it to her. And one day, she announces a find.


RAFFIELLA CHAPMAN: (As Vesper) You won't believe what I found.

BRAKE: (As Darius) What is this?

CHAPMAN: (As Vesper) Seeds.

MONDELLO: She said she hasn't really found them. She's stolen them, hoping to unlock the genetic structure that keeps them from producing a second generation of plants.


CHAPMAN: (As Vesper) Make them fertile so we never starve again.

MONDELLO: The world's entire ecosystem has collapsed, bioengineered out of existence by an upper class that now lives in citadels that look like huge metal mushrooms and consume all available resources. The rest of humankind - what's left of it anyway - lives in squalor. And if that sounds Dickensian, well, there's even a Fagin of sorts - Vesper's uncle, who lives in a camp full of children for reasons that appal his niece.


EDDIE MARSAN: (As Jonas) Do you think you're better than everyone?

CHAPMAN: (As Vesper) I have skills. And one day day I'll get out. You'll still be here sucking your kid's blood to trade for seeds.

MARSAN: (As Jonas) Oh, my ambitious little girl. You know, we are so alike, you and I. Because we won't let this world crush us, will we?

MONDELLO: Filmmakers Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper have given their eco disaster the atmospherics of "Children Of Men" and a heroine played by Raffiella Chapman who'd do just fine in "The Hunger Games." And for what must have been a fraction of the cost of those films, they managed some seriously effective worldbuilding - a glider crash that maroons a stranger from the citadel, trees that breathe, pink squealing worms that snap at anything that comes too close.

And in this hostile environment, Vesper remains a curious, resourceful adolescent, finding beauty where she can in a turquoise caterpillar, say, or in the plants she's biohacked - luminescent, jellyfish-like, glowing and pulsing and reaching out when she passes, all made entirely persuasive for a story with roots in both young adult fiction and real-world issues - haves and have-nots, bioengineering for profit, manmade disasters not far removed from where we are now.

"Vesper" paints a dark future, but offers audiences hope both for indie filmmaking and for a world gone literally to seed. I'm Bob Mondello.

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