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By Sumner Forbes | February 17, 2023

Our appetite for post-apocalyptic narratives is seemingly insatiable. Whether it’s current sensation The Last of Us or a classic like The Omega Man, we’re drawn to stories of survival in the midst of a crumbling world. We’re still relatively fresh off our own miserable experience beginning in 2020, but there’s still no sign of slowing down when it comes to these spectacles of misery. Writer/director James Morrison’s Diverge is an indie exploration of a post-apocalypse that should impress fans of this genre.

The early segments of the film immediately bring to mind The Road as Chris (Ivan Sandomire), an unkempt young man, is crossing a desert landscape outside of New York in hopes of caring for his sick wife, Anna (Erin Cunningham). She has contracted the same illness that destroyed the world they once knew. The notion that the pathogen originated in China makes the filmmaker seem in possession of an inordinate sense of premonition, but the similarities end there. Our time with Chris and Anna in this hellscape is short-lived as she succumbs to the illness early on, but not before the two of them are visited by a strange figure claiming to have a solution.

“…an unkempt young man is crossing a desert landscape outside of New York in hopes of caring for his sick wife…”

It turns out that this figure, Leader (Jamie Jackson), is a brilliant physicist who has come to the future from the past. At this point, the plot turns into a time-hopping journey into the past, with Chris working to prevent his past self from making the same decisions that led to the current moment. But as is always the case in narratives like this, things get messy when it comes to interfering with the past and changing the course of history, or the future, in this case. Will Chris and Leader succeed in their efforts? Or is the future already predetermined for us, no matter how we try to rejigger it?

For better or worse, I’m partial to these dizzying stories of time travel and the ramifications therein. Morrison packs enough twists and surprises to keep us engaged while he takes us through the nutty world of endless possibilities. That’s not to say that this hasn’t been done before, but this is honestly preferable to something like Shane Carruth’s Primer, which goes so far down the rabbit hole of possibilities that all but the most obsessive viewers inevitably zone out. This isn’t the case with Diverge, as Morrison keeps the story grounded in the strong relationships at its center.

One’s mileage may vary with the narrative subplots around the pathogen and the comically evil pharmaceutical company (named Tyrell). But these are stand-ins that simply provide a reason for the chronologically inventive framework at play. The atmosphere early in the film, as Chris and Anna explore the wasteland, is memorable. Admittedly, I missed this slower pace once the narrative goes all-in on the time-traveling. Morrison, though, wisely prevents the film from getting too bonkers. Diverge is fun, engaging, and a refreshing reminder that sci-fi films don’t need a substantial budget to look polished or to peak one’s interest.

Diverge (2016)

Directed and Written: James Morrison

Starring: Ivan Sandomire, Jamie Jackson, Andrew Sensenig, Erin Cunningham, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Diverge Image

"…a refreshing reminder that sci-fi films don't need a substantial budget..."

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