David Mamet has the uncanny ability to spin cryptic prose into webs of meaningful deception, expanding genre universes by withholding recognizable information from the viewer. His finest hour is Spartan, a post-9/11 hornet’s nest where shadowy characters communicate via inclusive professional verbiage operating underneath (or above) familiar English diction. I sensed Mamet’s influence in the early moments of Mia Trachinger’s low-budget sci-fi film Reversion, during which Eva (Leslie Silva) and Marcus (Jason Olive) traverse a tonally dystopic Los Angeles trying to stave off a predetermined act of violence. The complex realties of this crumbling world are unveiled through short bursts of opaque dialogue—verbal riddles that slowly reveal a physical divide between humans and “afflicted” mutants who can’t distinguish past, present, and future. Words turn out to be flimsy buffers between warring species.
Consistent physical volatility adds another dimension to Reversion‘s impressive construction of space. Eva is constantly surrounded by background muggings, riots, and theft, as if collective unrest is now permanently ingrained in the fabric of the frame. Her gangly figure glides by the violent acts, observing the madness with a casual eye for detail. A sequence in a supermarket perfectly establishes the relationship between controlled chaos and quiet spaces. Eva strolls through the aisles, eating a bite of an apple or a strawberry, while other “afflicted” souls do the same. As if the esoteric conversations and standoffs weren’t enough, Trachinger inserts a barrage of sensory flashbacks and flashforwards, visualizing Eva’s fracturing subconscious. While a tad literal, this approach nicely mimics the combustible atmosphere engulfing Eva no matter the location.
When Eva and Marcus meet in the supermarket parking lot, it quickly becomes clear their fates are already intertwined. Interestingly, both understand how the rest of the film will play out, and part of Reversion‘s initial mystery comes in trying to unlock their past relationship and betrayal. Seemingly influenced from Spartan‘s reference to “the desert” as hell on Earth, Eva and Marcus decide to head for “the beach” in search of an answer to their moral conundrums. Here, the ocean becomes not only a destination, but also an oasis for this couple trying to alter their tragic destiny. Unfortunately, the superbly realized momentum stalls on the bleached-out sandscape of a faux-looking Santa Monica, sending Eva and Marcus back toward her communal nest egg shared with other “afflicted” mutants. Without the immediacy of the road-film tropes complementing the obscure verbal interludes, Reversion quickly becomes a laborious anti-thriller with no bite.
In fact, the final act of Reversion is so spelled out and unimpressively dour that it makes you almost forget the edge Trachinger brought to the opening sequences. The filmmaker stretches out extraneous sequences merely to fill out the narrative to feature-length, and these silly sidebars detract from the tension of earlier sequences. Even worse, Eva turns from a badass into a passive wallflower, while Marcus’s bouts of rage are entirely antithetical to his earlier cool-customer persona. Trachinger fails to give the extended climax any visual identity and her sense of pacing quickly turns muted, lacking a dynamic sense of urgency when it needs it most. Finally, the ongoing battle between linearity and fragmentation that early on defines this futuristic vision becomes just another plot device, a narrative means to an end.
While Reversion sets up a complex communication platform for a universe being slowly ripped apart, it doesn’t know how to relate this idea in human terms. Eva and Marcus are just toy soldiers winding themselves up over inevitable disappointment, and after a while their repeating complaints, desires, and needs feel just as wooden. Endlessly spewing out lines of disjointed noir talk can’t buy you a burgeoning soul, no matter your species.