Volition is a science-fiction film without any special effects, mixing b-movie thrills (gunfights in warehouses and plenty of tough-guy-talk) with a high-concept idea; whether or not the choices you make really have any ability to influence your fate.
“They say when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. I wish it were that simple.” So narrates James (Adrian Glynn McMorran), the protagonist of Volition, a man gifted (and cursed) with the power of clairvoyance. Imminently aware of his own death, the film sees him travelling backward and forward in time in order to save Angela (Magda Apanowicz), the woman he loves. For him, multiple lives seem to flash before his eyes, unaware which road he will finally go down. He’s got a point about nothing being simple: this is a time-travel movie that forgets some of the basic cornerstones of the genre.
Volition reminds us once again that time travel movies deal in paradox. If you have to go back in time, then technically you have already gone back in time, so anything you do has already been done. There are creative ways around this, of course, movies quickly establishing the rules so their certain-vision kinda makes sense. Without these rules — whether its Looper or Avengers: Endgame — the whole thing can get very confusing very quickly. Here the narration aims more towards the philosophical, obfuscating our understanding of time travel rather than helping us find a way to enjoy it.
With the ambition and plot-line of 12 Monkeys mixed with the low-budget execution of Primer, Volition asks deep questions if we can ever truly change our fate? But what the movie doesn’t really do, is find a way for us to be engaged with its time-travel plot; either by establishing the rules or creating a proper emotional centre. Most wanting is the woman James is supposed to save. Despite some decent acting by Apanowicz, Angela comes off more as a cipher than a real person, giving us little reason to care whether she lives or dies.
With flashbacks, flash-forwards, shaky cam, screen-wipes, and different colour filters, Volition uses a lot of busywork to imbue the film with style and attitude, but it really comes off more distracting than interesting. Most egregious is the endless repetition of certain scenes, which can work in more clinical hands — see Edge of Tomorrow — but here feels like a means to simply pad out the narrative. While there is some fun to be had with the ways in which we see the same scene but from different angles, as we realize that in fact, James is all around us, just hiding in different places, this is hardly new territory for the genre. Perhaps if the movie were more fun, we would forget about the plot, but the “fuck” heavy dialogue is unforgettable, as is the fast-paced, heady narration, swerving more quasi-profound than truly enlightening. This is one time-travel journey you can miss.