VESPER. The best science fiction since “Blade Runner 2049”

The inventive world-building is the greatest asset of “Vesper.” The post-apocalyptic reality is exceptionally convincing, almost alive.

Maciej Kaczmarski

1 July 2024


The creators of “Vesper” likely had only a fraction of the budget allocated to expensive Hollywood productions, yet they managed to achieve what neither Nolan nor the authors of the recent “Creator” accomplished.

In the future, a global ecological catastrophe occurs: in an attempt to prevent a climate crisis, humanity genetically modified viruses and bacteria, which escaped from laboratories and destroyed edible vegetation, all animals, and a large portion of the human population. The remnants of humanity struggle to survive in a devastated nature full of mutated and deadly plants, while the wealthy oligarchy hides in closed citadel cities. The rulers of the citadels produce androids for physical labor, and sell modified seeds to the impoverished outlanders that yield only one crop and then die. Vesper is a teenage girl who lives in a poor forest hut with her paralyzed father, who communicates with his surroundings through a flying drone. Vesper is interested in biology and botany: she designs and grows plants in hopes of obtaining food. Her uncle Jonas, who lives nearby, conducts dirty dealings with the citadels. One day, Vesper finds the wreckage of a flying machine in the forest and discovers mysterious survivors from the citadel.


Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper had previously collaborated on the excellent “Vanishing Waves” (2012). To broaden their audience, the Lithuanian and the Frenchman decided to involve an additional screenwriter, Brian Clark, and make “Vesper” with a significantly larger budget, in English, and with an international cast (Raffiella Chapman, Eddie Marsan, Rosy McEwen, and Richard Brake). The production of the film—from idea to post-production—lasted six years. The main outdoor scenes were shot in Lithuania, around Vilnius. “Every time I was in Lithuania, I was completely surprised by the fairy-tale atmosphere that prevails in this country, like in the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales,” admitted Samper. Cinematographer Feliksas Abrukauskas wanted to achieve on-screen the effect of chiaroscuro from the paintings of Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn. Special effects in the form of CGI and practical tricks were also used, but green screen technology was abandoned. There is also an interesting and commendable Polish element: the music composed by Dan Levy was performed by members of the Beethoven Academy Orchestra and the Krakow Philharmonic Choir.

Samper’s quoted words about the fairy-tale atmosphere rhyme with the content and form of “Vesper,” as it is a kind of fairy tale in the science fiction convention. This is convinced not only by the almost archetypal characters (Vesper as the poor, though brave and resourceful girl-seeker, Jonas as the big bad wolf, Darius as the good but weakened father, Camellia as the fairy, the Pilgrims as mysterious ghost-like beings, etc.)—but also their surroundings: the dark forest full of strange plants with almost anthropomorphic features and the distant castle, whose role in the film is fulfilled by the citadel city. The fairy-tale world of magic has been replaced in “Vesper” by technology, but it is worth remembering Arthur C. Clarke’s words that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” [1]. The main character of the film is forced to engage in the fight between good and evil, which also fits the fairy-tale scheme. As Dorota Bełtkiewicz noted, “fairy tales, presenting moral attitudes and life choices, are not free from emotions. The plot is more interesting if the hero deeply experiences emotions, is torn by dilemmas, and must take risks” [2].


All of this is present in “Vesper” and has been shown by the creators in a dazzling, refreshing form. Buožytė and Samper took the best from two great science fiction traditions: American and European. From the former comes a certain leading simple plot (another feature typical for fairy tales) and a visually refined, spectacular, and attractive show, which, however, unlike many contemporary SF productions from the USA, never turns into a tiring display of technical fireworks (only one explosion, not very spectacular). From the latter, they took philosophical ambitions close to, for example, “Solaris” (1972) and “Stalker” (1979) by Andrei Tarkovsky, albeit in a slightly more accessible edition (there are also very topical ecological, sociological, and class themes, fortunately without preaching). Moreover, the filmmakers managed to maintain a balance between these two traditions, avoiding blind imitation. What’s more, from fragments of well-known pop culture artifacts, they created an entirely original universe.

The inventive world-building is the greatest asset of “Vesper.” The post-apocalyptic reality is exceptionally convincing, almost alive: you can almost feel the moisture of the dense forest emanating from the screen, the chill of eerie, giant rusted mushroom-like metal structures, the warmth of Vesper’s lab with fluorescent plants, the smell of rotting wood in her home, the stifling air in Jonas’s greenhouse, the stench of a decomposing body in the swamp, and the terror from encountering the Pilgrims resembling a specter from a painting by Zdzisław Beksiński. But this world would be dead without the flesh-and-blood people populating it, and such portraits (despite being rooted in archetypes) were created by the actors. Chapman as Vesper is phenomenal; it’s impossible to take your eyes off her expressive face; Marsan as Jonas is seemingly the embodiment of evil, but he too has his motives; Brake playing the father acts only with facial expressions and the voice from the drone, but that’s enough; McEwen as Camellia is as delicate as Chinese porcelain. In short: the best SF since “Blade Runner 2049” (2017) by Denis Villeneuve.


[1] A.C. Clarke, Clarke’s Third Law on UFOs, “Science” No. 159 (3812), January 19, 1968, p. 255.
[2] D. Bełtkiewicz, Archetypes and Symbols in European and Arab Fairy Tales as Models for Reconstructing the Cultural Image of the World, “Slavica Iuvenum” XXI.27, p. 238.