Editor’s Note: Predestination opens in limited release on Friday, January 9th, and is now available on VOD
“Luck is the residue of design,” proffers Predestination enigmatically in one of the many lines of dialogue that betray this as a movie with neither to its credit. Playing out like a slapdash Frankenstein’s monster of hokey time travel twists and sci-fi set design, this latest effort from Daybreakers helmers Michael and Peter Spierig hasn’t the fortune to feel even accidentally interesting as it trundles on interminably toward its terribly telegraphed endpoint. It makes, at least, an excellent argument for the corollary: bad design, in this instance, has left an almighty Murphy’s Law-tempting mess of residual bad luck for all involved. Inadvisable plot points, here, are many; irredeemable indulgences in the genre’s worst aspects follow on almost as a matter of course.
… the Spierigs haven’t so much created the sci-fi equivalent of a greatest hits album as a lousy collation of cover versions
It’s an apt indicator of both the script’s level of nuance and the movie’s own unremarkable course that Ethan Hawke’s esoteric yet expository intro voiceover concludes thus: “I guess you could say we were born into this job.” Indeed what better title to afford what feels like such a preordained fate of a film; its eventual insufficiencies appear less the consequence of artistic ineptitude than some grand cosmic injustice. That’s at least partially for the great reservoir of untapped potential that sits behind the scenes, spoiling: Hawke’s front-and-centre placement is an appreciably deceptive invite to a drama in which he plays second fiddle, the limelight instead shone on Sarah Snook’s androgynous stranger whose storied past has more to do than one might expect with Hawke’s time-hopping traveller.
Might, that is, unless one’s ever seen a film of this ilk before: in both bare concept—adapted from a short story by Robert A. Heinlein—and visual composition the brothers Spierig here prove themselves perfectly competent filmmakers, but a competent rehash of innumerable compelling predecessors all at once is scarcely sufficient. Here co-opting the iconography of RoboCop and production design of Men in Black, there aping the cyclical complexity of Primer and fate-fulfilling finality of Looper, the Spierigs haven’t so much created the sci-fi equivalent of a greatest hits album as a lousy collation of cover versions. Judicious jargon use only serves to deepen the dismal sense of disinterest; only with its interminable nonsense does the movie ever manage to convey what a “time distortion field” might be.
…whatever commendation the movie might earn for its inclusion of the erstwhile marginalised, there’s damnation aplenty awaiting in turn for the manner in which it’s nought but a mere plot point ploy
Oh, to dwell on what might be: if there’s an aspect of Predestination that warrants intrigue—and no small if that is—it’s in the central role for a character for whom gender identity is an issue. That it can’t quite be discussed is equally attributable to the sacred spoiler and the simple fact that it’s all utter hogswash anyway: whatever commendation the movie might earn for its inclusion of the erstwhile marginalised, there’s damnation aplenty awaiting in turn for the manner in which it’s nought but a mere plot point ploy. Thwarting both biology and psychology with its laissez-faire approach to logic, Predestination disregards just about everything but fulfilling the fate of its title with a dedication that couldn’t but be admirable—if not for its hapless, hopeless hilarity.
There’s achievement at least in managing somehow to conclude absurdly and obviously: the insufferable endpoint to which Predestination resolutely treks is at once too ridiculous to be foreseen and, yet, so symptomatically signposted as to be unmissable. It’s a curious contradiction indeed, and one infinitely more compelling than any of the many the narrative accidentally allows. As Hawke drones on over shabbily-shot flashback sequences, his consistently inquisitional voiceover a limp effort to conceal his minimal presence herein, you find yourself willing the movie toward its inevitably inane end, if only to get it all over with. “Time,” he drawls, “it catches up with all of us in this job”. Here is a film to make you feel the passage.
Predestination hasn’t the fortune to feel even accidentally interesting as it trundles on interminably toward its terribly telegraphed endpoint.