Given that the basic premise of this film is about a guy who sits in his house discussing politics, philosophy and the inner workings of the mind with the human embodiment of death, you’d be forgiven for not expecting the enjoyment levels of the latest action-packed, CGI-heavy science-fiction blockbuster. Yet it is the simplicity of the storytelling that makes The Bestowal interesting, its single-minded focus on investigating deep, intricate societal and psychological issues leading to an insightful and thought-provoking 90 minutes of film.
The Bestowal is a dialogue-heavy production that follows the conversations of a depressed businessman, Steven (Sam Brittan), with an interdimensional being, Death (Sharmita Bhattacharya), who takes the form of a young woman and visits him in three separate stages of his life.
A movie such as this, that relies almost entirely on dialogue, must be underpinned by an interesting, well-written script – and, while not necessarily perfect, director Andrew de Burgh’s writing manages to ensure that the audience remains attentive from start to finish.
The depth and intellect of the script is impressive, with de Burgh developing intriguing and profound conversation around a number of heavy issues. From climate change to homelessness, the detrimental impact of technology to what it means to be happy, every deep thought you’ve had while struggling to get to sleep after a few too many beers is probably covered, in some form, throughout the film.
Yet while the topics of conversation are indeed heavy, they are generally managed with an air of subtlety by de Burgh. The ability of the film to study and ponder what happiness means in the context of modern society is deeply fascinating, producing a number of compelling and, at times, provocative arguments around issues such as how to thrive spiritually and emotionally in a challenging capitalist context.
“Everything comes down to the mind”, Bhattacharya’s character of Death states, and this could easily act as the tagline for the movie. This is a layered investigation of the human psyche, and how people perceive aspects of the world in which they live. It is deep and thoughtful, inciting moments of introspection that you wouldn’t expect from an independent science-fiction flick.
However, at times the film’s focus on poignancy is a drawback. The desperation for depth in every moment of conversation leads to some clunky moments of over-indulgence, the dialogue falling into occasional bouts of contradiction and inconsistency.
One example is found with the filmmaker’s focus on the negative impacts of technology. While at one point the character of Death explains that society has been far worse in previous eras, such as the times of the Roman Empire, their point is undermined further into the story, as they claim that the rise of technology has caused a situation in which humanity is more apathetic than ever before.
Overall, though, the script is commendable, and is delivered to a respectably high standard by its tiny cast. Actors Sam Brittan and Sharmita Bhattacharya deserve credit for carrying the entire film themselves; I doubt there are many roles that have involved so much dialogue in such a short period of time. I bet they slept well after every shoot.
Bhattacharya is impressive as the human incarnation of death. Her ability to produce an emotional and effective performance as a being with literally no soul is remarkable, switching between the more clinical, AI-like aspects of her character to moments of impactful emotion with relative ease. Brittan is good as the solemn, intense Steven, but sometimes tries a little too hard to hit the emotional beats – leading to less subtle moments within his performance.
The direction and cinematography are incredibly simplistic. While this is admittedly understandable, considering the entire film takes place in just three locations, it sometimes leaves you feeling like you’re watching an interview on BBC News, rather than an artistic independent movie.
The score is also underutilised. While the music itself is eerie and almost hypnotic, it often feels as though the track was slapped over the film without much care for complementing the beats on screen.
Nonetheless, the quality and poignancy of the script, delivered impressively by the cast, leads to an interesting and engaging experience. While there are issues, the film’s ability to pose insightful and thought-provoking questions is outstanding, leading to a compelling and introspective journey with these characters. This is a bit different from your usual sci-fi film, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
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A thought-provoking, impactful independent sci-fi. It has its issues, but the writing and performances deserve great credit. Who knew a 90 minute chat with Death could be so interesting?
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