Like something out of the classic sci-fi/fantasy publication METAL HURLANT, (aka HEAVY METAL, to U.S. fans), writer/director JAMES MORRISON’S DIVERGE (2016) begins almost wordlessly. A man and woman are seen, living a hardscrabble existence with a blasted, desolate, dystopian landscape as their backdrop. Husband and wife, as we discover later, they carry with them a precious cargo: some meager flowering plant life in a container, which the man synthesizes carefully into a serum he uses to treat a horrific rash on his wife’s neck, trying to stave off the grave illness that is obviously robbing her of life.
This is Chris and Anna Town (IVAN SANDOMIRE and ERIN CUNNINGHAM), and their daily struggle for survival is briefly interrupted by a strange man, (JAMIE JACKSON) who offers them food, and a promise: he knows a way to cure the sick Anna, if Chris, who is not ill, will come back with him and leave her to help find the cure. Chris refuses, and threatens the man if he doesn’t leave, which he does.
But soon enough, through a devastating set of circumstances, Chris sees the man again, and what happens next sends the story careening into 12 MONKEYS territory.
The man has a wounded Chris captive in an isolated lab one minute, and the next, he finds himself in a strange new world. But he soon discovers that it’s not just about where he is, but WHEN: the scientist has sent him into the past, where he sees a whole different vision of Anna and…HIMSELF. All the scientist has told him is to seek out a man in the past who can help, named “Dimitri Tarkov.” And here is where we part company with the remainder of the plot, because the spoilers would be many, leaving very few surprises.
DIVERGE, (not to be confused with the YA-influenced thriller DIVERGENT) is Morrison’s stunning freshman feature…one you could think of as a low-budget homage to Chris Marker’s 1962 short, LA JETEE, the film that originally inspired 12 MONKEYS, except with a micro-budget and no names like Bruce Willis and Madeline Stowe. Which is fine, since not having high-profile actors gives this a sense of being grounded in reality that otherwise wouldn’t be conveyed. And Sandomire’s troubled earnestness reminds me of other great actors who possessed that same quality, like Craig Wasson or Paul LeMat.
DARIN QUAN’S cinematography completely complements A.R. BROOK LYNN’S stark production design in the future segment, and adapts easily to the more grounded-in-our-reality parts in the past, which contrast the surrealistic aspects of the plot as increasingly bizarre events unfold.
No, this isn’t Kubrick, Boyle, Fincher or Aronofsky, but Morrison’s film isn’t at all afraid to ask the audience to step into Chris’s shoes, and contemplate the hard questions: if you could travel back to the past and change everything about your life and the lives of your loved ones, would you? And where would you draw the line, doing whatever it took to make those changes happen?
DIVERGE is well-made, somber and thoughtful work, so anyone looking for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or even EDGE OF TOMORROW had best be warned: this is not that kind of film. And bearing that in mind, I think it deserves a solid three-and-a-half out of five stars.