Skip to main content

Vesper review: an imaginative sci-fi adventure

Vesper does a lot with a little. Despite being made on an obviously lower budget than most other modern sci-fi movies, the new film from directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper takes place in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world that feels more well-realized, vivid, and imaginative than any of Hollywood’s current cinematic universes do. While its premise doesn’t do much to sell Vesper as a unique entry into the dystopian sci-fi genre, either, it doesn’t take long for its fictional alternate reality to emerge as a striking new vision of the future.

The film’s opening shot throws viewers headfirst into a swampy, gray world that seems, at first, to be perpetually covered in fog. It’s an image that makes Vesper’s connections to other industrialized sci-fi films like Stalker undeniably, palpably clear. However, once Vesper escapes the foggy wasteland of its opening scene, it begins to flesh out its futuristic reality with rich shades of greens and colorful plants that breathe and reach out toward any living thing that comes close to them. While watching the film does, therefore, often feel like you’re being led on a tour through an industrial hellscape, it also feels, at times, like a trip down the rabbit hole and straight into Wonderland.

Raffiella Chapman walks through a dystopian swamp alongside a flying drone in Vesper.
Courtesy of IFC Films

Much like the land that Alice famously fell into, Vesper‘s dystopian future contains wonders both terrifying and comforting. Set during a period that is only referred to by the film’s opening crawl as the “New Dark Ages,” Vesper takes place in a reality where the Earth was long ago transformed by various biological and genetic experiments gone awry. These experiments, we’re told, were conducted in the hopes of preventing the planet’s ecological collapse. Instead, they merely accelerated it, sending the world and all of its inhabitants tumbling into a reality where trees expand and shrink with every breath they take, plants move, and synthetic, multi-colored slugs lurk beneath the Earth’s permanently swampy floor.

In the aftermath of the world’s off-screen collapse, humanity was essentially divided into two groups: the privileged elites who get to live within tall, encased structures known as “Citadels” and those who have to make ends meet in the wilds of the film’s dilapidated Earth. Vesper (Raffiella Chapman), the film’s eponymous lead, is a member of the latter group. Fortunately, Chapman’s Vesper has become quite adept at surviving in even the harshest of environments by the time that Buozyte and Samper’s film catches up with her. Vesper‘s opening sequence even sees its young heroine overcome several obstacles in order to save the life of her paralyzed father, Darius (Richard Brake), who uses a telepathic link to communicate with her via a flying drone that accompanies his daughter everywhere she goes.

Vesper and Darius’ lives are thrown into complete disarray, though, when the former unexpectedly stumbles upon an unconscious woman named Camellia (Rosy McEwen) in the woods. Vesper takes in Camelia, a stranger from one of the nearby Citadels, in the hopes that she might be able to help Vesper finally escape the creaky old house that she and her father have lived in for too long. What Vesper doesn’t realize, however, is that Camelia is secretly involved in a conspiracy that not only puts some very dangerous targets on their backs but also catches the attention of Vesper’s abusive, controlling uncle, Jonas (Eddie Marsan).

Raffiella Chapman leaning against a table while looking at Rosy McEwen in Vesper.
Courtesy of IFC Films

Vesper, notably, takes its time getting into the conflict that led to Camelia’s chance encounter with Chapman’s resourceful young survivor. The film’s script, which Buozyte and Samper wrote with Brian Clark, largely prioritizes atmosphere and world-building over plot progression. That means the first 30 minutes of Vesper are more concerned with setting up the film’s futuristic world, as well as its young heroine’s place in it, than they are with generating conflict. For some viewers, this may result in Vesper moving too slowly than they would have liked.

That said, it’s easy to see why the film’s creative team was more interested in Vesper‘s intricate sci-fi world than in its straightforward and predictable story. Not only are many of the film’s plot twists fairly obvious and easy to predict, but Vesper’s limited production budget also prevents it from making its third act as action-packed as its story demands. As a result, while there’s never a moment when Vesper truly loses hold of its viewers, the film’s measured pace and ultimately subversive finale do make the smallness of its scope unavoidably clear.

Raffiella Chapman stands in a grassy field in Vesper.
Courtesy of IFC Films

Within the film itself, both Eddie Marsan and Richard Brake help bring a sense of on-screen authority to Vesper. Marsan, in particular, is exceptionally well-cast as Jonas, a man who takes immense pride in the crude ways he’s managed to carve out a space for himself in Vesper’s dystopian world. Opposite him, Raffiella Chapman turns in a youthful but quietly assured performance as Vesper, one that manages to highlight her character’s innate, childlike innocence without ever short-changing her abilities or intellect.

Vesper - Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

Additionally, while Vesper’s smaller production budget does frequently prevent Buozyte and Samper from exploring the film’s story as deeply as they probably would have liked, the directors do still manage to fill it with consistently memorable images. One brilliantly inventive scene even follows Vesper and Camelia as they climb onto different chairs and tables in order to avoid touching a biological weapon that takes the form of a yellow mold that rapidly spreads and covers everything it comes into contact with.

The sequence in question calls to mind similar moments in movies like Minority Report and Annihilation, and the fact that Vesper is even able to seem reminiscent of those films is a further testament to its ability to transcend its own financial constraints. For a film that ultimately isn’t able to take its own plot as far as it probably should have, Vesper still manages to tell a visually striking and imaginative story, which is more than can be said for many of Hollywood’s recent sci-fi blockbusters.

Vesper is now playing in theaters and on VOD.

Editors' Recommendations

Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
3 sci-fi movies with great female lead characters
golden globe nominees revealed gravity movie review sandra bullock shiop

Although this definitely is not the case, you might default to thinking about science fiction as a genre fundamentally owned by men. But the truth is that since the dawn of sci-fi storytelling, there have been great female leads at the center of a number of major properties.

Have there also been plenty of stories about heroic male saviors who are destined to beat the bad guy? Of course, but that's not an ironclad rule. These three films prove that sci-fi as a genre has plenty of room for movies with great female leads.
Aliens (1986)
Aliens (1986) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Read more
This 2016 sci-fi film is one of Netflix’s most popular movies now. Here’s why you should watch it
A woman attempts to touch an alien in Arrival.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Dune) is one of the most exciting and acclaimed directors in the modern age of filmmaking, and his sci-fi hit Arrival is making waves again after being added to Netflix's vast catalog. The movie earned critical acclaim upon release, as well as a handful of Academy Award nominations, with Arrival still holds up just as well nearly seven years later.

Villeneuve has made no secret of his talents for sci-fi with his work in the Blade Runner franchise and now Dune, but the 2016 film is arguably one of his most inventive efforts. Between Arrival's subversive storytelling approach to the commanding performance of its lead, now's as good a time as any to see why the movie is ranking in Netflix's top 10 this week.
A subversive take on the 'alien invasion' trope
Arrival Trailer (2016) - Paramount Pictures

Read more
5 worst movies of 2023 so far
Ana de Armas and Chris Evans as Sadie and Cole about to kiss in the 2023 movie Ghosted.

Every year, we spend plenty of time thinking about what the best movies we've seen are, and rightfully so. There are always plenty of worthy titles to consider, and every year produces a slate of great films worth thoroughly considering.

Of course, with the good, we must also take the bad, which is why every year also contains plenty of titles that are less worthy of thorough examination and consideration. Every year has a few total stinkers, and this is a list that contains five such titles. Without further ado, these are the worst movies of 2023 so far.
65 - Official Trailer - Only In Cinemas March 10

Read more