Jaxxon Sterling (Stephen Dorff, center) is held prisoner by Stars (Moises Arias, Jason Genao). Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Divinity, which premiered Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, seems to want to be a science fiction parable of the THX 1138 variety. Unfortunately, it is so convoluted and difficult to watch, any relevant message comes far too late.
Jaxxon Pierce (Stephen Dorff) is continuing his father Sterling's (Scott Bakula) research into an anti-aging formula called Divinity. Jackson gets it to work, though not everyone is happy about this.
Two men (Moises Arias, Jason Genao) break into Jaxxon's house and give him an overdose of Divinity. Meanwhile, Ziva (Bella Thorne) leads a group of followers in retro sci-fi uniforms trying to stop Divinity, a subplot largely detached from the rest of the film.
Writer/director Eddie Alcazar shot Divinity on grainy black and white film stock and made it aggressively hard to see. Editing, fuzzy archival videos of Sterling's research and ambiguous parallel stories challenge the viewer to piece together Divinity.
One sequence combines stop-motion animation with anime-inspired backgrounds. In the dark black and white footage, it's just as muted as the rest of the film.
Early on, Sterling reveals in a video that Divinity does not stop mental deterioration. The prospect of aging brains in perpetually young bodies hasn't deterred anyone from taking Divinity.
Jaxxon also reveals that this world was plagued by infertility before they invented Divinity. So few, if any, new people will ever join the world but they still want to live forever.
By the time Divinity reveals what the formula is actually made of, it has clear parallels to controversial real-life sciences. The film is questioning the ethics of pursuing such a scientific advance, but is so on the nose it is clumsy at best.
Perhaps worse, the twist in Divinity suggests even worse consequences than real world anti-science advocates caution. Yes, Soylent Green warned of corporations turning people into food, but Divinity could really empower dangerous anti-science views.
The film also features gratuitous sex. That also speaks to ethics when you find out where exactly Jaxxon's partners come from.
Divinity is obviously intended to be a challenging film. However, even if you meet the film on its own terms, it still proves problematic.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.