Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: THE DISCOVERY: Get Lost in Your Head [Sundance 2017]

Rooney Mara The Discovery

The Discovery Review

The Discovery (2017), Film Review from the 33rd Annual Sundance Film Festival, a movie directed by Charlie McDowell, starring Jason SegelRooney MaraRobert RedfordJesse Plemons, Riley Keough, and Ron Canada.

A common theme of this year’s Sundance Film Festival has been the abundance of extremely interesting premises that are poorly executed. Add this Netflix Original to the list.

The film explores various existential questions: what would happen if the existence of an afterlife had been scientifically proven? What would you do? What would society do? Apparently, the inescapable lure of the afterlife would substantially increase the prevalence of suicide throughout the world.

Scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) has become an infamous household name after having discovered irrefutable proof of the afterlife. He very publicly refuses responsibility for the rise in the suicide rate, and his son, Will (Jason Segel), becomes increasingly frustrated. Traveling across the choppy waters, he’s surprised to discover his stubborn father temporarily hunkered down in a decrepit mansion avoiding the deluge of media that results. He’s also secretly working on his next project: obtaining recordings of the afterlife via dangerous life-threatening experiments. As father and son argue about the implications of The Discovery, as it’s called, and debate the potential risks and rewards of continued research, a stranger named Isla (Rooney Mara) enters their lives, provoking both of them to question their current reality.

To elaborate further on the plot would risk spoiling the film. Let’s just say that the film attempts multiple plot twists that render the film an incoherent mess. Their problem is that they stimulate more questions than answers and, in the end, the film leaves the viewer with an overwhelming stock of half-answered, half-assed concepts that never come full-circle.

Obviously, the script needed more work and wasn’t ready for primetime. That’s a shame because the concept and its implications are incredibly thought-provoking and deserve better treatment. It’s surprising to see someone of Mara’s caliber in the film, though her character is, admittedly, the most enigmatic and interesting. It’s not surprising, however, to see Redford’s participation; he seems to appear in at least one film featured each year at Sundance.

The film is perfectly suited to the Netflix platform and may potentially develop a cult following and even knock-offs. It is a film catered for a mass audience, which may explain why it seems complicated but is actually so very simple. Instead of producing a tight, sharp, and exciting cerebral exploration of the human experience during life and after death, the filmmakers settled on a mediocre construct better suited to veterans of the industry who wouldn’t be, ironically, in over their heads.

The Discovery is screening at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in the non-competitive Premieres category and is a Netflix Original that will debut on the streaming service on March 31, 2017. 

Rating: 5/10

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Image Source: Sundance Institute

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About the author

Drew Stelter

Drew is a 26-year-old film buff. A native Utahan, he attends the Sundance Film Festival annually. He is a member of the Salt Lake Film Society. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he attended the Oscars Red Carpet on March 2, 2014, after winning an essay contest through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. At any given time he can be expected to be conversing via movie quote GIFs.

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