Review: ‘Predestination’ [SXSW 2014]

Predestination Photo

Predestination | Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig | SXSW 2014


Going into the world premiere screening of Predestination, I knew absolutely nothing about the film other than that Ethan Hawke was starring in it, and that the film had something to do with time travel. This made for an interesting watch as I was truly piecing together the film with no prior perspective.

Predestination is helmed by the brotherly directorial duo of Michael & Peter Spierig. They worked with Hawke before on 2009’s Daybreakers. They also penned the script, which is based on Robert Heinlein’s classic short All You Zombies. If you’re familiar with the story it would certainly enhance your enjoyment of Predestination, as it’s quite a trip.

The basic plot of the film revolves around Hawke’s character, a time-traveling Termporal agent. He’s been on the hunt for a dangerous bomber known as the “Fizzle Bomber” who has been terrorizing New York. With his abilities the agent can travel to any point in time, kill someone, and get away with it. Yes, a lot about it’s plot reminds of Looper.

We meet up with the agent in New York City during the 1970s where he’s acting as a bartender. He engages in a interesting conversation with a shady man, who promises that he can tell the agent the best story he’s ever heard. The film suddenly switches gears and we’re thrown into the story told by this man, who we soon find out is not quite exactly what he seems. You see, he was once a she. This character, played to perfection by newcomer Sarah Snook. This story isn’t just some brief aside, soon, the film becomes about what happened to make a pretty young girl this bitter trans man.

From there on out, Predestination becomes a wild ride that begs for careful detailed watching. It’s the sort of film that is best suited for viewing at home where you can pause, rewind, and rewatch at your leisure. If you blink, you’ll miss a crucial element that is key to the entire whole. The problem is, even if you are watching carefully, Predestination is still a dizzying experience that relies too much on the shock. I honestly think that the Spierig brothers came up with the big reveal first and struggled to piece a cohesive way to get there.

Predestination was definitely an interesting watch. It was fun at times trying to see where its headed and trying your hand at guessing how it all plays out. I was right in some ways, and way off in others. But by the end of the film it all becomes overwhleming. The Spierig’s try so hard to cause shock and awe-struck moments, but it all just gets to be too much to handle. To quote a line from the film, it’s like “a snake that eats its own tail.” The balance of the film felt off. It felt as though you were watching two different film: one about time travel, and the other of a girls transformation into a man. Sure it all ties into each other eventually, but the transition between the two isn’t smooth.

Hawke is a good fit for the role, and does fine with it. There’s also a decent bit role for the always reliable Noah Taylor as the agent’s boss. It’s Sarah Snook who steals the whole show from the veteran actor, in a breakthrough role which should be where all conversations about Predestination head towards. She’s so great, it was hard for me to believe that is her first major film role. She is one to watch for sure.

Predestination’s twists and turns may be enough to shock some viewers in believing that the thriller is something special. While it does provide an engaging ride, it became too much for me to handle without shaking my head. I applaud it for its ambition, but that same spirit is also what ultimately brings it down.

6.0/10