Vessel (2013)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/29/13 14:36:40
SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Is there a name for the genre that includes films like "Happy Accidents", "Safety Not Guaranteed", and now Australian independent "Vessel" yet? There should be, as "maybe science fiction, maybe mental illness" is rather unwieldy. This one does its thing nicely enough, but could greatly benefit from choosing one of those maybes and sticking to it.Ash (Mark Diaco) is an "Interfacer", one of a rare group of people on Earth who regularly has data dumped into his head by extra-dimensional beings, which the government insists he passes on. And while his handler (Christopher Bunworth) is pressuring him for an important formula set to be sent soon, the transmissions make him feel hollow and numb enough that he's visiting a therapist (Georgina Naidu) and living like he's homeless despite that likely not being the case. Today, he's desperate enough to feel human again that he's calling in favors from various friends to track down rumors of a miracle cure.
To say whether Ash's problems are caused by aliens is beside the point; viewers can play "real or delusion" with Bunworth's Operative character, the contents of what look like seizures, and maybe some of what happens in the last act all they want without it necessarily becoming significant one way or the other. There are titles at the start describing the history of these Interfacers, but since the whole movie is from Ash's perspective, there's no guarantee that they're the work of an omniscient narrator. What's important is the push-and-pull between Ash and his gift/handicap. Director Adam Ciancio alternates scenes of him wandering like a vagabond with him reconnecting with friends and loved ones, and there's something quite sad and telling about how he seems sincere and interested but is constantly asking for favors and leaving pieces of himself behind. It's an easy analog to, say, addiction, but not less effective for it.
Mark Diaco does a fine job of selling Ash, as well. As much as he talks about his ability to feel being diminished, it comes across much more as a frustrated numbness than something cold or robotic. There's equal parts desperation and helplessness on display, but also just enough of what appears to have been a mostly-decent man that it's easy to see why all these people who have been hurt by him in the past deal with him even when he asks somewhat unreasonable things. He's worth investing in.
The supporting cast is nice, too, mostly passing through the movie one by one. Mike McEvoy, Ursula Mills, and Justin Hosking each have unpretentiously fine sequences as people from Ash's life that could serve as either attempts to connect or farewells. As he gets closer to his goal, the more heavily plot-oriented scenes are not quite so great; Bunworth is fair as a character who doesn't make a whole lot of sense, while Daniel Frederiksen does what he can to make a sequence entirely about getting from point E to point F interesting. Evelyn Krape, though, does quite a bit to make a character who must at least be interesting something close to compelling.
Ciancio and company shoot the heck out of Melbourne, finding run-down areas that still have a bit of a chance to them and making the place a bit chilly. The events take place over the course of a single day in mid-June, and that being when the days are shortest in Australia figures into the storytelling nicely. Things do get slightly dicey with both the fantastic aspects and flashbacks; the movie works so well as a snapshot of a specific moment that getting away from that or making the audience wonder why the hypothetical government agency Ash reports to would let such a valuable asset stumble around like a junkie gets a bit frustrating.If this had been a movie about a guy whose delusions were just that, it might be a little more sad, but the best parts would still work. They could even be incorporated into a story where the audience knows and believes in Ash's gift (though that likely would have cost many multiples of this one's five-figure budget). Landing halfway doesn't hurt the best parts of "Vessel" a whit, but if Ciancio had just picked a side, they could have been the whole movie.
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