❉ Time-bending story follows a solitary survivor of a deadly virus who is given the chance to reclaim his life by altering his past.
Diverge is one of those low budget genre films that seems tailor made to play festivals and streaming services, showing what the director/writer is capable of. The director/writer in case here, James Morrison working with limited resources, offers up a debut feature that shows promise if he gets the opportunity to work again in the genre on a bigger canvas.
The film begins sometime after an unspecified event has ravaged the environment and seemingly the world’s population. This opening sequence is reminiscent of Tarkovsky, especially Stalker, as the film shows protagonist Chris, played by Ivan Sandomire, and his hard scrabble existence with his dying wife Anna, Erin Cunningham while he searches for a plant to treat her with. Taking shelter from the blasted and washed out landscape in their tent which consists of little more than tied together rags and sleeping under plastic sheets the film details this landscape and lifestyle neatly and impressively with next to no dialogue. After this opening act, Chris finds himself thrown back in time, with a mysterious flashing light surgically inserted into his lower leg, to the days before the pandemic that has all but destroyed the world with a chance to set things right.
It is here that the film’s main influence becomes quite apparent. Morrison has the same interests as Shane Carruth and this film shares the same lo-fi aesthetics as his time travel head scratcher Primer, as well as the biological obsession that carried through Upstream Colour. Diverge however does not come close to matching those films’ cerebral qualities.
Morrison also struggles visually to match the film’s stark opening once he returns to the present-day cityscape and casually explains away one time travelling paradox quite unsatisfactorily. However, he manages to hold the viewers interest by neatly intertwining the stories of its dual protagonist(s) and adding elements of big pharma conspiracy to its time travel shenanigans. He also refuses to insult the audiences’ intelligence, nimbly crafting a feature that has the potential to confuse but successfully does not and that manages to stand above the majority of its low budget genre brethren.
This isn’t a perfect example of low budget genre filmmaking, it wears its influences too readily on its ragged sleeves, and when you call your villainous pharmacological company Tyrell that is going a bit beyond the obvious. As a writer Morrison does not seem as strong as a director, the script fails to carry much urgency, potentially fatal when you’re dealing with the upcoming end of the world, and although it is leisurely paced it never drags, keeping the pace humming along. Performance-wise Morrison makes sure that the cast acquit themselves well enough, if not memorably, for a film of this type.
But in the opening sequence as a director Morrison shows that he can work well visually with limited resources. Maybe this is a chance for him to get his influences out of his system and if given the chance in the future to work again in this genre who knows what he could be capable of. There is enough here in this quiet little debut to suggest that he may worth be keeping an eye on in the future.
❉ ‘Diverge’: Writer/Director: James Morrison. Producers: David Mandel and Noah Lang. Cast: Ivan Sandomire, Jamie Jackson, Andrew Sensenig. Released on VOD and iTunes February 6 2018. For more information, visit gravitasventures.com, and follow @GravitasVOD on Twitter and @gravitasventures on Instagram.