The question of life after death is one of the deepest imaginable, and an answer would have profound consequences on humanity. Despite some flickers of philosophy, The Discovery is neither deep nor profound enough to do its subject justice.
Following a strong sci-fi tradition of changing only one element of the world for the fantastical, The Discovery creates an unsettling setting for storytelling. A practically abandoned island shrouded in fog, an old manor staffed by jump-suited yet near silent staff, and an all-encompassing obsession with death. Visually this is evoked through a myopic, deliberate blurring of the edges of view, a technique at once intriguing and frustrating – much like the movie as a whole.
Jason Segel, playing it straight after a noticeable absence, is an adequate lead; the most empathetic character played with mostly believable reactions, yet his muted performance sets the tone for the film. Robert Redford, as always, makes for a charismatically menacing cult-leader, but is sadly used mostly as a spectral presence or exposition device. Rooney Mara gets perhaps the shortest shrift on character, a downplayed quasi-manic pixie dream girl MacGuffin, however she turns this around to deliver the best performance.
From the start, The Discovery is a disappointing shadow of what could have been. Yet the question it asks is interesting enough that you’ll inevitably think more about this film in the days after viewing than it deserves on cinematic merit alone. That makes The Discovery a poor yet perfect metaphor for life after death.
The Discovery is not a revelation, and it’s not even that new. What it is, however, is an interesting question asked in an uninteresting way. You’ll forget the film even as you’re thinking about its philosophy. Makes Netflix original filmmaking look like the new home of straight to disc movies.
CAST: Robert Redford, Jason Segel, Rooney Mara
DIRECTOR: Charlie McDowell
WRITERS: Justin Lader, Charlie McDowell
SYNOPSIS: A scientist uncovers scientific proof that there is indeed an afterlife, his son is not too sure about his father’s “discovery”, and a mystery woman has her own reasons for wanting to find out more about the afterlife.