Divinity: a midnight-movie kind of mania courses through the veins of this lo-fi sci-fi

Apparently filmed with no actual script, this madcap monochrome mind-bender zigzags through a world in which 97% of women are infertile and men are all preening bodybuilders.

29 January 2023

By Tim Hayes

Divinity (2023)
Sight and Sound
  • Reviewed from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival

Not the only film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival with women’s reproductive rights on its mind, Divinity tackles the subject with a lo-fi sci-fi kink-friendly freakout. Its freewheeling illogic might be partially explained by the fact that no actual script was involved, according to director Eddie Alcazar. Unfettered by such a straitjacket, and filmed almost entirely in a grainy black-and-white that camouflages any number of budgetary restraints while adding a mad-scientist air to the film’s biological contortions, Divinity riffs on its core concerns – social collapse and misogyny – until it has to think of a way to end. This it does by discarding its own ironical midnight-movie tone and getting the giggles instead.

In the film’s world, at some point in the past, scientist Sterling Pierce (Scott Bakula) created a drug called Divinity to prolong human life to near-immortality. “You will never age physically again. Your search for salvation is over,” says a Divinity commercial. ‘Your search for food might be just beginning,’ a viewer might think, but the film isn’t concerned with that at all. Instead it notes that the drug has made 97 percent of women infertile, though everyone still continues to take it. Two brothers, revolutionaries of some sort, attack Jaxxon Pierce (Stephen Dorff), son of Divinity’s creator, and give him a massive overdose of the drug to induce a monstrous mutation. Meanwhile, somewhere in the ether, a group of women led by Ziva (Bella Thorne), all apparently wearing jumpsuits from a Gene Roddenberry garage sale, sense the presence of a rare fertile woman in Pierce’s vicinity and beam down to rescue her.

The film adopts the sort of form and aesthetic that might once have made a beeline for your unconscious, but these days finds a lot of ironic pop-cultural baggage in the way when it gets there. Satire isn’t really the right word, but Alcazar flirts with the kind of underground cultural commentary that used to prop up a whole sector of subversive camp experimentation. Never aging in a world where women are infertile has turned men into preening bodybuilders obsessed with their own muscular development; they laze around in shallow pools of water and drizzle oil on each other, before masturbating all night. Whether they might opt to jump each other instead doesn’t come up, and Ziva’s female troops are all seemingly straight beautiful women, so the film’s sexual politics have some limits.

A late burst of stop-motion animation and shots looking out from a woman’s cervix suggest the film is being wrapped up on the fly; until then, it’s like bits of Children of Men (2006) retooled by Kenneth Anger.

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