The following is a review of The Discovery – Directed by Charlie McDowell
The Discovery – a Netflix original film from director Charlie McDowell – is a ‘romantic’ science fiction film set some time after Dr. Thomas Harbor (played by Robert Redford) is believed to have found proof of an afterlife.
The Discovery follows Will (played by Jason Segel) – Thomas’ son, who refuses to completely believe in the credibility of his father’s discovery – who, while travelling to his father’s facility, meets Isla (played by Rooney Mara) – a mysterious, suicidal woman that Will brings to his father’s facility.
His father is working on a machine that is intended to record the afterlife, but is seemingly unsuccessful in testing it out. After a very disappointed Thomas leaves the machine unattended, Will notices that it may have recorded something after all. However, Will believes that the recording isn’t of an afterlife, but of the deceased test subject’s memories.
The Discovery isn’t what I would classify as a typical Netflix movie. What I’m saying isn’t that it isn’t good, but I think this is a film that would’ve worked better on the big screen, than on a streaming service. While Netflix should – and probably does – work as a springboard for independent titles like The Discovery, I fear that The Discovery is too unexciting for the ordinary subscriber.
The Discovery is successfully depressing and the look of the film really adds to the general mood. The film deals with mass suicide in the wake of a discovery that we don’t really see, which I feel is a shame. Everything is also just so cloudy and cold, and I do think this, as well as the slow nature of the first half will work against the film as more people get to see it.
I think there is too much expository dialogue in The Discovery. The film also has some character issues. Isla is, generally, a character unworthy of Rooney Mara’s talent. I think both Redford and Segel do a fine job with their characters, but it is hard to not feel like Rooney Mara and Riley Keough are wasted in their respective roles.
While I did end up liking The Discovery, it is hard not to feel just a little bit disappointed that the film didn’t work better. But make no mistake, I definitely think the good outweighs the bad in The Discovery, which I do believe is an admirable attempt at dealing with ambitious concepts.
Both of Charlie McDowell’s first two films – the first one being The One I Love – wear their inspirations freely and on their sleeves, so to speak. For example, in The Discovery‘s final act you can definitely feel that Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an inspiration.
Still, The Discovery doesn’t really feel too derivative. When the film finally kicks into overdrive it does excite, and, ultimately, the mind-bendy concepts in The Discovery are executed well enough. The Discovery is McDowell’s most ambitious feature film yet, but it isn’t his most accomplished film.
The film does grant answers – albeit possibly not the ones one might expect or want – but if you can hang on to the lofty, mind-bendy ideas of the final half of the film, then I think you’re going to be entertained by a film that is, sadly, more ineffective than it should be and not as inventive as I wanted it to be.
7 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex