Divinity is the bold directorial debut of Eddie Alcazar, bringing to life a surreal science fiction tale set in a twisted retro-futuristic world. Executive produced by none other than Steven Soderbergh, known for supporting fresh directorial visions, Divinity aims to transport viewers through its striking visuals and themes. We follow the story of scientist Sterling Pierce, played by Scott Bakula, who develops an immortality serum called Divinity before his untimely death.
His greedy son Jaxxon, portrayed by Stephen Dorff, takes over the business and begins mass producing the miracle drug for profit. Set in a dystopian future Earth afflicted by infertility, we’re introduced to two mysterious brothers from the cosmos intent on taking down Jaxxon’s empire. What transpires is a wild mind-bending trip touching on themes of greed, pleasure and the pursuit of eternal youth.
Bringing his background in animation and VFX to the forefront, Alcazar employs an innovative filmmaking technique he dubs “Meta-Scope,” seamlessly blending live-action and stop-motion animation to create a jarring, retro-stylized fever dream. The use of shadowy high-contrast black-and-white cinematography and grainy 16mm film augments the nightmarish tone. Backed by an eerie electronic score from DJ Muggs and Dean Hurley, the movie promises to assault the senses with its bold off-kilter aesthetic.
In this review, we’ll dive deeper into Eddie Alcazar’s accomplished directorial debut, analyzing the intricacies of the plot, performances, visuals and themes. We’ll examine whether the arresting style successfully compensates for narrative issues some critics have identified. And we’ll explore if Alcazar delivers a satisfyingly weird sensory experience that will appeal to fans of esoteric sci-fi and surreal cinema. Strap in for a breakdown of this mammoth indie genre film birthed from the mind of an imaginative emerging filmmaker.
A Jarring Retro-Futuristic Fever Dream
Right from the unsettling opening shots, it’s apparent Divinity will take viewers on a visually disorienting journey. Alcazar immediately establishes an arresting retro-futuristic aesthetic through the grainy black-and-white cinematography captured on 16mm film. The high-contrast monochromatic look lends a nightmarish quality, while the intentional blurriness and gritty texture provide an unsettling analog sheen. We’re transported to an alternate world that feels both classical and modernly dystopian.
Serving as his own cinematographer under the moniker Danny Hiele, Alcazar and his team went to great lengths to achieve the film’s unique visual identity. They utilized a special black-and-white Kodak film stock to render the low-lit scenes in a virtually charcoal chiaroscuro. The alchemy between costuming, production design, makeup and cinematography is apparent in every frame. This shadowy realm evokes German expressionist classics and the foreboding works of David Lynch.
Alcazar also leveraged his background in VFX to pioneering effect through an innovative technique he trademarked as “Meta-Scope.” This process blends live-action footage with stop-motion animation in a way that few films have ever dared. The results are both retro and futuristic, adhering to the analog textures of classic Ray Harryhausen creations while augmenting with slick modern post-production overlays. The viewer is constantly trying to discern what is real and what is animated artifice.
The technique is used to build the creepily surreal sets, elevating the production design to a grandly sinister fever dream. Jaxxon’s desert lair resembles the cavernous belly of a mythical beast, replete with fanged architecture and oozing bodily sculptures. The clinical 1950s laboratory equipment contrasts with the sleek future-facing computers and machines. Striking images like an alien womb pulsating in darkness establish an eerie sci-fi mood. Clear callbacks to classics like Alien, Frankenstein and Metropolis abound.
Alcazar’s imaginative flair for surreal imagery assaults the senses scene to scene. A sentient overflowing bathtub, concept cars flying through desert landscapes, and a red-hued dollhouse containing miniatures of the characters all contribute to the hypnotic dream logic. Smooth scene transitions sometimes feel more akin to traversing a lucid dream realm than viewing a traditional narrative. The periodic lens flare effects and strobing lights only heighten this trance-like state.
The Meta-Scope animated sequences represent the visual heights of the film, from the salacious product commercials to the climactic battle rendered like a live-action video game cutscene. The hyper-stylized animation allows Alcazar’s wild imagination to run rampant, no longer bound by physical limits. The resulting action setpieces feel ripped straight out of the maximalist anime and video games that clearly influenced the director.
While UNDENIABLY visually arresting, some critics argue the constant optical assault leaves little oxygen for the story and characters. The non-stop kaleidoscopic spectacle can certainly overwhelm the senses, intentionally disorienting to abstraction at times. Yet this expertly crafted visual madness ensures Alcazar’s debut stands out in the sci-fi landscape as a true original vision. Divinity may perplex narratively, but proves Alcazar possesses daring talent ready to shake up genre filmmaking through sheer virtuosic style and technical innovation.
Probing the Perils of Pursuing Immortality
At its core, Divinity explores the alluring yet corrupting prospect of human immortality. The film centers on the highly sought after serum Divinity, developed by scientist Sterling Pierce as a means of stopping aging, only to be exploited by his ambitious son Jaxxon. This miracle elixir grants users enhanced strength, preserved youth and an intoxicating god-like power. However, it also leaves them sterile along with grotesque side effects if taken in excess.
Alcazar establishes a retro-futurist world afflicted by infertility, having grown dependent on Jaxxon’s profiteering of Divinity. Visually we see the indulgent sterility this has bred – vacuous beauty standards, barren desert landscapes, a civilization empty of legacy and posterity. Into this dying landscape come two mysterious brothers from the cosmos, intent on overturning the corrupted order Jaxxon has built upon his father’s once noble formula.
From there the plot grows increasingly surreal, shirking narrative cohesion in favor of transporting the audience through a hallucinatory maze via tone and aesthetic. The alien brothers hold Jaxxon captive and force feed him massive doses of Divinity, mutating him into a literal monster. They interact with escort Nikita, who represents fertility and authentic humanity amidst the superficiality. A cult led by Bella Thorne’s character Ziva emerges, seeking to recruit the only remaining fertile women to birth a new generation.
Alcazar weaves this heady sci-fi premise into an undeniably provocative meditation on society’s obsession with dominance and eternal youth. The twisted father-son dynamic between Bakula and Dorff becomes a warning about the perversion of science and power across generations. Jaxxon’s inflated ego and body morph into a symbol of masculine toxicity and unconstrained id. The world’s addiction to a drug that suspends aging while halting reproduction reflects our self-destructive myopia when it comes to the future.
The costuming, production design and performances all visually amplify themes of superficiality and sterility in this billionaire-run vacuum. Alcazar also takes satirical jabs at capitalism, as the masses become hooked on a product that destroys long-term societal health for the benefit of short-term profits. This morally vacant version of humanity’s quest for immortality easily turns citizens into narcissistic husks once the reaper is seemingly eliminated from life’s equation.
Some critics argue the plot exists merely as a vehicle for the visuals, diluted by the constant opaque dream logic. But the narrative provides just enough of a through-line for Alcazar to splash his lush visuals across a provocative philosophical canvas. The haziness of the world and characters even seems an intentional choice, forcing the audience to focus on broader insights over relatability.
While not always coherent, the plot succeeds in propelling Alcazar’s ambitious ideas about societal demise in the face of humanity’s most profound desires. Divinity ultimately plays like a two-hour art house thought experiment, transporting us to a realm where we can ponder morality versus immortality in new cinematically dynamic ways. It may not offer tidy narrative closure, but provides glimpses of transcendence through Alcazar’s potent audiovisual medium.
Cast Delivers on the Surreal Tone
The apt casting and performances in Divinity adeptly complement the film’s surreal aura. Stephen Dorff anchors the film with an effectively exaggerated turn as vain mogul Jaxxon Pierce. With his bright smile and smooth voice, Dorff exudes the smarmy charm of a Silicon Valley CEO. Yet under the surface broils a twisted megalomaniac, exemplified as Jaxxon physically and mentally devolves under Divinity’s effects. Dorff cleverly toes the line between caricature and nuance.
As the alien brothers, Moises Arias and Jason Genao ground the cosmic characters through an intentional flatness fitting the dreamlike tone. Arias brings a steely edge in contrast to Genao’s quiet intensity. Their deadpan delivery works given these otherworldly beings are discovering humanity anew. When Arias gets emotional in the climax, the burst of feeling is made more impactful by the previous restraint.
In just a few scenes, Bella Thorne leaves a delightfully absurd impression as the enigmatic cult leader Ziva. Cloaked in mystique and speaking in a deliberate slow tone, Thorne sells the messianic weight with just the right amount of self-awareness to avoid total camp. Her proclamations about fertility and destiny cut through the fog with amusing charm.
Veteran actor Scott Bakula, known for his leading sci-fi roles in Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise, brings his signature earnestness to humanizing the ambitious but misguided Sterling Pierce in brief flashbacks. Bakula conveys the well-meaning passion of a scientist who sees his work perverted over time, adding a tinge of tragedy to the backstory.
The supporting players like Karrueche Tran as escort Nikita and Emily Willis as one of Jaxxon’s acquaintances all deliver intentionally stilted performances to heighten the strange atmosphere. At times the acting risks becoming too affected, but generally the performers ride the line between embracing the campy pulp influences while reacting genuinely to the bizarre circumstances.
Amidst the surreal happenings, the actors convincingly respond with a straight-faced seriousness that makes the world feel cohesive. This judicious blend of exaggeration and realism in the performances allows the strangeness of the plot to feel grounded. The cast clearly grasped Alcazar’s vision and tone, even if the dialogue and characters were loosely defined.
While the characters as written lack depth, the ensemble brings life to these entities traversing a peculiar sci-fi parable. Their gravitas provides an anchor through the film’s constant abstraction. From Dorff’s devolution to Thorne’s kooky mysticism, these dedicated performances keep the off-kilter ethos of Divinity on track when the plot floats into more shapeless terrain. They sell the psychedelic ride with aplomb.
Crafting a Unique Sci-Fi Experience
On a technical level, Divinity displays both rough edges and stellar craftsmanship in building its surreal retro-future universe. The practical sets and tangible props root the film in a sense of analog tangibility even when the visuals border on abstraction. Jaxxon’s lair with its cavernous chambers, bizarre sculptures, and dank textures feels like it exists in a physical space, amplifying the Lynchian eeriness. The real smoke, fog and sand imbue organic grit.
At the same time, Alcazar innovates through seamless VFX techniques like Meta-Scope that blend stop-motion with live-action footage. This pioneering approach allows Alcazar’s wild imagination to run free, unbound by physical limits in the animated fight scenes. The video game and anime influences are fully unleashed, creating action spectacle rarely seen in indie sci-fi on this budget scale.
However, the improvised dialogue doesn’t always land as successfully, lending an uneven quality. While the off-the-cuff conversational tone fits the hazy atmosphere, certain lines come across clunky or redundant. A tighter script could have clarified character motivations and thematic intent. The vocals also sometimes feel obviously overdubbed, disrupting immersion.
The electronic score compiled by DJ Muggs and Dean Hurley of Twin Peaks fame certainly amplifies the trippy and otherworldly ambience. The music lends an ominous, gritty texture complementing the visuals. However, more memorable melodic hooks could have helped key sequences reach greater emotional crescendos.
Ultimately the technical execution reflects a young director finding his voice through bold experimentation. Alcazar already displays a remarkably developed aesthetic and thematic vision straight out the gate. His background in animation and VFX enable the film’s cutting-edge visual language. The influences of Lynch, Cronenberg, Kubrick and even anime films cohere into a distinct style.
While still rough around the narrative edges, Alcazar exhibits filmmaking bravado and innovation exceedingly rare in small-scale indie cinema. He not only keeps pace with sci-fi storytelling’s technical frontiers, at times his vision vaults beyond them through the use of emerging techniques like Meta-Scope. Divinity may occasionally betray its budget, but largely transports us through the sheer force and singularity of Alcazar’s filmmaking craft.
A Stunning Sensory Debut Heralds a Fresh Sci-Fi Voice
Ultimately, Divinity lives and dies on the prowess of its technical execution and avant-garde visuals more so than its plot or characters. As a narrative, the film remains intentionally opaque, nearly evaporating at times into ethereal mood and absurdity. But as a hypnotic sensory experience, it casts a dark spell.
The potency of the visuals far outweigh any narrative shortcomings. Eddie Alcazar immediately establishes himself as a director with bold stylistic flair and substance through the technical mastery and innovation on display. The unique retro-futurist production design, arresting cinematography and pioneering VFX open up new terrain in indie sci-fi filmmaking on a budget.
Divinity demands to be appreciated first and foremost on a sensory level, like tapping into the flowing strangeness of a dream. Ascriticssuggest, comprehending the finer plot details ultimately proves secondary to being washed over by the macabre visual currents carrying you through its shadowy retro realm.
While flawed, Divinity heralds the emergence of a promising directorial talent and creative force based solely on Alcazar’s accomplished command of the medium itself. His influences feel alchemized into a new surreal synth-punk aesthetic never seen before in cinema. Clearly this bodes well for Alcazar building upon these strengths in future projects with more narrative focus.
In the end, Divinity should deeply resonate with audiences craving bold, original, idiosyncratic sci-fi storytelling outside the mainstream. Fans of daring filmmakers like Nicolas Winding Refn, Panos Cosmatos and Richard Stanley will find their new favorite psychedelic playground here. Alcazar has forged a striking vision and developed trailblazing techniques that expand the boundless creative potential of genre cinema.
So while the story becomes obscured in its otherworldly visual smokescreen, that sensory smokescreen itself proves enthralling enough to get lost inside. Divinity succeeds above all at immersing us in the strange, provoking our imagination through pure audiovisual power. Its reality may be elusive and enigmatic, but the cinematic spell it weaves remains undeniable.
For all its narrative flaws, Divinity emerges as a triumph of directorial vision and technical daring. Eddie Alcazar has crafted a sci-fi mind-bender that casts a darkly hypnotic spell through the provocative retro-futurist aesthetic he pioneers. The sheer originality and innovation on display mark Alcazar as an emerging talent to watch closely in genre cinema. Divinity transports us to a surreal cerebral plane through the boldness of its execution alone, and that cinematic force overshadows any first-feature shortcomings. Prepare to be immersed in a retro-stylized nightmare dreamscape unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
- Striking and unique visual style with retro-futuristic aesthetic
- Impressive production design creating an immersive atmosphere
- Pioneering use of "Meta-Scope" blending live action and stop-motion
- Strong directorial debut for Eddie Alcazar displaying artistic vision
- Creative and surreal dreamlike imagery throughout
- Excellent electronic score enhances the hypnotic tone
- Ambitious themes related to immortality, greed, pleasure vs. morality
- Most performances fit the intentionally stilted, pulpy tone
- Plot often feels opaque and takes backseat to visuals
- Story can be vague and confusing at times
- Improvised dialogue leads to some redundancy
- Characters lack depth and development
- Pacing drags in the middle section
- Some over-indulgence in style over substance
- Themes could be more developed beyond surface level
- Narrative can border on incoherence and absurdity