I Origins (dir. Mike Cahill)
Speculative fiction films are currently having a renaissance. Though not horror, we have written about these films on All Things Horror because some of these films are the smartest and most inventive films that you have not yet heard of. COHERENCE, LFO, FREQUENCIES (previously titled OXV: THE MANUAL), and INVERSE are all recent films that are small budgeted, but become genre films simply by asking “What if?” I ORIGINS has part of its heart in this science fiction world, but ultimately is a sappy romance. If that is your sort of thing you will love it, but for this cold-hearted horror enthusiast, the plot fell a little flat.
The story follows Ian (Michael Pitt), a hipster research biologist investigating the evolutionary origin of the eye. After a chance hook-up at a Halloween party he becomes obsessed with the woman whom he only can identify by her eyes. Through a series of repeating “elevens” on lotto tickets and bus numbers the universe magically aligns and leads him to her, and they have a whirlwind romance. Ian’s scientific atheist mind is a contrast to free spirited Sofi’s (AstridBergès-Frisbey) embrace of angels and new age interior design. After a tragic and highly unlikely accident Sofi is killed suddenly and Ian settles back into his more predictable life.
The film then jumps forward a number of years to Ian’s new life. He married his attractive lab assistant Karen (Brit Marling, who previously worked with director Cahill on ANOTHEREARTH) and together their research on the eye has revolutionized evolutionary biology. When their son is born and given a retina scan at the hospital the plot finally begins to get interesting.
I will spare you the details and revelations of what the retina scan uncovers because this incident and the plot that tumbles out of these discoveries is the best part of the film. The science involved is shaky at best, but that is part of the fun of speculative fiction. You get to experience a slightly modified version of our reality, one where the unimaginable becomes a new normal for the characters. Ian gets thrust into this new reality of chasing a possible discovery of the century, and it is both his scientific and personal passion that fuels him.
Had the film focused more of its running time on this new twist on science and Ian’s quest I would have found it a lot more enjoyable. Instead the bulk of the time is spent on Ian and Sofi’s courting period and their debates about religion. This romance is not a new story nor does it unfold in an unexpected way. In fact, it plays out like Dharma and Greg—the rebellious and spiritual woman who woos the straight laced logical man—and this lack of originality is boring. But the science of the eye and the global ramifications of Ian’s discovery are riveting. It is just plain frustrating that less time is spent on them.
Should you be looking for a romantic film with a dose of science fiction, and you were a fan of Cahill’s ANOTHER EARTH, I ORIGINS may just be up your alley. But if you are looking for another solid addition to the current wave of tightly edited and groundbreaking speculative fiction films you may be disappointed, like me.