A disgruntled script reader and music video director, Mark (Jonathan Randell Silver), answers an online ad looking for a director for a sci-fi movie. Dave (Liam Torres) and his compatriots Jimmy (Reggie Gowland), Larry (Steve Siddell) and Suzy (Natalie Thomas) are looking for someone to help make Dave’s screenplay, the tale of a human prophet who has a vision of his Venusian future self, into a feature film. Despite the small group’s lack of experience with filmmaking (as they will be acting as cast and crew), and an unfinished story that Dave will work on as they film, Mark takes the job.
Beyond the normal low budget filmmaking challenges found when working with non-actors and inexperienced crew, as filming commences Mark runs into a different obstacle. The more time he spends with this “creative collective,” the more he suspects them of being a cult of some sort. He also finds himself liking them far more than he initially thought he would when he reluctantly signed on. All his concerns come to a head when an ex-cult member (Jade Fusco) explains what’s going on, and Dave is forced to come clean about the film’s purpose, and the group’s future.
ROVER (Or Beyond Human: The Venusian Future and the Return of the Next Level) is one of those films that could truly excel if it committed more to the inherent quirkiness of its tale, or employed characters that actors could really sink their teeth into. In practice, however, it’s not terribly interesting. While eventually the characters are given a few layers of depth, for the most part everyone on screen feels bland for the majority of time. It could be seen as eccentric and unique, depending on how charitable you’re feeling, but it’s not really engaging.
Which is my main criticism of the film, this disconnect. Yes, we learn more about the individual cult members lives, and the funk they’ve found themselves in, but there’s something missing. And, sure, there is the mystery of where the film is heading, and how the film-within-a-film will turn out, but the audience knows more than Mark appears to know at almost every turn, so it’s less a mystery for us than it is a case of waiting for him to catch up. And while we wait, we have time to question whether we even care. I did not.
Also in the meantime, we’re left watching another indie film about making an indie film. I’ll give this one credit for not going the mockumentary route, and for giving the creation of the film-within-a-film more layers than is common. There are moments where one can ponder the meaning and importance of faith, and maybe that’s what the film is hoping will carry it along, but it’s just not enough. Again, playing up the quirkiness, or fleshing out the individual characters with more dynamic personalities, would go a long way to making this a complete and entertaining experience.
It’s disappointing, because the ideas behind it sound far better in theory than what turned out on screen. It has its moments, usually involving the rendering of the Venusian beach scenes, but overall the film just didn’t connect with me.