Diverge opens on a bleached wasteland of desolation. Two lone survivors wander, in search of a cure for a plague that has ravaged Earth. The lingering, symmetrical shots of the nomads as a black speck against a barren plain give one the fear that this will be one of those movies where nothing happens and we are forced to decipher symbolic meaning from indulgent filmmaking. Thankfully, this is not the case with writer-director James Morrison‘s striking science fiction time-travel thriller, Diverge that turns out to be an engaging meditation on mortality and fate.
Chris Towne (Ivan Sandomire) and his wife Anna (Erin Cunningham), are the two wanderers at the beginning of the film. Chris whiles away his time finding animals killed by the plague and searching for vegetation that might hold a cure. The two make contact with a mysterious third man (Jamie Jackson) who begins to question Chris on why he and his wife is out of the quarantine zone. After yet another tragedy, Chris falls prey to the stranger and is captured. Awakening, restrained and confined to a gurney, Chris’ captor sets up the story. Boy, it’s a good one.
It seems that, prior to the plague, Chris was a scientist who spotted a possible cure to the disease as it was beginning to take hold of mankind. Sadly, through a series of key decisions, Chris ultimately became largely responsible for the said cure being locked up and sold to the highest paying customers. Great news for big business, very bad news for the rest of mankind. With that, Chris’ captor sends him back in time to fix his mistakes and alter the course of history, thus potentially saving the human race.
This all sounds so cliché, I know. but Morrison’s script is smart. He stays away from the normal, glitzy gimmicks that scream “TIME TRAVEL!” in lieu of crystal clear pragmatism. Gritty and honest, the story follows our hero as he lands in the past and attempts to unravel the mystery of his past. Who was after his secrets for good, and who was after his knowledge for selfish gain? Along the way, he also has to be particularly careful to avoid his past self while infiltrating the world he once knew. There is some brilliant writing here.
Does Chris retrace his past and fix what he helped destroy? Who was it that led he and the rest of mankind down the path of destruction? To explain the plot to this slow-burn thriller any further would do a disservice to the joy of discovery as the plot slowly reveals its secrets.
Sandomire as Chris, the troubled scientist-gone-rogue gives a genuinely empathetic, adroit performance. This is a man who once enjoyed the cushy, naive existence in civilization, who has suddenly realized his part in its downfall. Playing both himself in the past, as well as the more weathered, post-apocalyptic hero, we get to see Sandomire‘s versatility with the same character on divergent paths. Nice work here.
This is aided by Morrison’s script that teasingly drips plot points laced throughout seemingly mundane moments. As the characters from the past go on with their lives, we catch a news blip in the background reporting on a mystery illness. In lesser hands, we would be lost to watch paint dry, yet every scene very delicately drives the storyline further along. There is always something to be looking out for. Along with that, Morrison never veers from the logic he establishes. Time Travel stories are sticky wickets at best with their own set of do’s and dont’s. Diverge sets the ground rules right away and sticks to them.
If you are looking for a smart, sci-fi thriller, mystery, you need to see Diverge. This is easily the best time travel movie since 2004’s Primer in that it approaches the concept in a stripped down, bare-bones kind of way. Morrison’s script embraces the honesty of the situation while he rely’s on a strong lead performance to be the special effect that takes us along for the ride.