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Tuesday, January 24, 2023

‘Divinity’ Sundance Review – A Stunningly Original, Weird-as-Hell Sci-fi Trip

Out of all the programming categories at Sundance, it’s NEXT that proves to be the most divisive. Saved for “pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling,” it’s essentially the home of arthouse cinema. So it should come as no surprise that Eddie Alcazar‘s weird-as-hell Divinity, which just had its world premiere at the festival, falls right into that category.

Set in an alternate universe (or a near future?), Divinity sees scientist Sterling Pierce (Scott Bakula, Quantum Leap) dedicate his life to the quest for immortality, slowly creating the building blocks of a groundbreaking serum named Divinity. Years later, his son Jaxxon Pierce (Stephen Dorff, Blade) now controls and manufactures the drug, resulting in a hedonistic planet that has been left 97% infertile, but immortal. Two alien brothers (Moises Arias and Jason Genao) arrive with a plan to abduct the mogul, only to be surprised by the sudden arrival of a sex worker named Nikita (Karrueche Tran, TNT’s Claws), who complicates their plans. Meanwhile, in another universe (or planet?) a female race led by Ziva (Bella Thorne, The Babysitter films) aims to undo the destruction caused by Divinity.

Divinity is fucking weird. There’s no way around it. Though it has a more linear narrative than your typical experimental film, its black-and-white, 16mm-shot assault on the senses is bound to divide viewers. Writer/director Eddie Alcazar, returning to the screen for the first time since 2018’s Perfect, gives us a unique vision that doesn’t offer much handholding for viewers. It’s best to just sit back and enjoy(?) the ride.

Though it’s aesthetically reminiscent of the lo-fi production of sci-fi television shows from the ’60s, the themes that Divinity grapples with apply to our modern world. Keying into society’s penchant for selfishness and self-preservation, especially in these post-pandemic times, Alcazar has more on his mind than a silly little sci-fi adventure.

Sundance Divinity

Dorff may get top billing, but he does end up buried under a great deal of makeup for most of the film’s runtime, so the emotional core falls on Tran, Arias and Genao. Tran, especially, gives a mesmerizing and ethereal performance. It is through Nikita that the alien siblings gain a semblance of humanity, learning to understand what it means to be human and the detrimental effects Divinity has had on the race.

The worldbuilding is exquisite, so it’s no wonder that an industry titan like Steven Soderbergh opted to produce the film. Divinity is a vibe, but what the film lacks in commercial appeal it more than makes up for in a seemingly unending supply of creativity. Makeup effects on a continuously transforming Dorff impress, and a climactic battle filmed in stop motion dazzles. Jacob Flack and Mark A. Mangini‘s sound design is impeccable, adding an even more ominous layer to the proceedings.

As abstract as Divinity can be, it sometimes doesn’t trust its audience to fully understand what it’s trying to say, with Nikita even vocalizing the film’s central message about midway through the film. It offers little handholding for viewers, but when it does it pulls you out of the film. These moments are few and far between, but because of that it makes the moments that they do occur feel even more jarring.

Expect Divinity to perplex more viewers than it doesn’t (cries of “pretentious bullshit” will be inevitable), but for those that can appreciate the sheer ambition of the film’s scope, there’s a treat to be found within. Immortality is a constant talking point in the film, but what does that really mean? Is it merely that one body lives forever? Or is it something more than that? For those willing to meet Divinity halfway, they may find the answer.

Divinity had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and is currently seeking a distributor.

The post ‘Divinity’ Sundance Review – A Stunningly Original, Weird-as-Hell Sci-fi Trip appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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