Australian sci-fi thriller Predestination, directed by the Spierig Brothers and starring Ethan Hawke, is a true hidden gem. The film grossed a measly $44,000 on its opening weekend in the US, with an eventual worldwide gross of less than $5 million. It is hardly known in most circles despite being an excellent example of the genre, a real mind-bending oddity. The film was first released in mid-2014 down under, with an early 2015 release in the UK. Despite 2014 being a good year for intelligent thrillers like Nightcrawler (with a tiny budget of $8.5 million) and Gone Girl, Predestination didn’t make the cut. Possibly due to little advertisement or a lack of star power, though Hawke is long overdue status as a household name.
The film is based on the 1950s short story ” ‘—All You Zombies—’ ” by Robert A. Heinlein, one of the big sci-fi writers of the day – the filmmakers have even named one of its characters after him in tribute. Predestination is mainly a faithful adaptation of the story, but does add in some additional elements. Hawke plays a ‘temporal agent’, a time traveller, tasked with stopping a mysterious terrorist bomber before he can initiate a deadly attack in New York – in the year 1975 – that kills thousands of people. There are only three proper characters, with some played by different actors as they age and evolve. The use of time travel and scientific time travel concepts, such as paradox, is the highlight of the film. Predestination has a consistent ability to surprise, one which it properly relishes in.
The set design is very of the period, regardless of what period, as the film spans from the 1940s all the way to the ’90s. Decor and costume clearly mark out the different eras that Hawke’s character is exploring. You can feel the financial constraints as the film mainly contains itself to small interior sets, but this lack of large outdoor spaces actually complements the intimacy of the story. Predestination‘s twisty narrative is something else – go in without any spoilers and you’ll be frequently amazed. The world set up in the film is so intriguing. A government agency formed to stop disasters before they happen is an endlessly interesting idea, and the morals of such an organisation are explored here. Predestination is a more cryptic examination of the theme than Minority Report, which simplifies the concept down to its most basic level.
The visual style is decidedly anti-science fiction, in the sense that it avoids the flashy aesthetics. The time machine itself is essentially an instrument case with a few adjustable parts. One potential drawback of the film is that it is so insular, so involved in its own mesmerising logic. The entire plot is exclusively about the bomb threat and our very small set of characters. Predestination doesn’t extend its universe far enough to involve the other temporal agents, who all work in the same department as Hawke’s character. In the days of sequel after sequel and reboot after reboot, though, this kind of mentally stimulating and always-engaging standalone thriller is just the right medicine.
Watch the trailer below: