We’ve all had times when the world seems impossible to deal with and all we can think of is how terrible everything is. Going to work is pointless at best, people are generally awful and getting worse, and the day just isn’t worth facing anymore. As The Bestowal begins, that’s largely how Steven (Sam Brittan) is feeling, except he’s decided that he doesn’t want to face the entire rest of his life. But as he’s trying to work up the nerve to end it all, a beautiful young woman (Sharmita Bhattacharya) appears from nowhere and begins trying to convince him that life is worth living after all.
Given her mission, it’s rather startling when she introduces herself as Death, though she’s more correctly an interdimensional being rather than a personification of human mortality. As far as she’s concerned, though, suicide is a dreadful thing because it’s a death that happens before its proper time, not to mention a death that leaves a soul wandering, lost in torment. She apparently can’t help such souls, so instead she visits the suicidal before they act, trying to persuade them to carry on. Borrowing from Plato — or maybe Plato borrowed from her, considering how fluid time is in this film — she tells Steven that caring about the happiness of others is what gives us our own happiness. Though doubtful, Steven agrees, because it’s hard to imagine anyone not being consumed with curiosity over whether or not Death gives good advice. She promises to come back in twenty years to see how he’s doing.
And Steven doesn’t seem to have aged a day when Death returns, something they attribute to his journey towards enlightenment. During this journey, he’s made amazing strides in helping humanity, but the world is still becoming a darker place all the time. Even Death herself is finding it harder to travel between dimensions because of this. Is life as we know it about to come to an end? Or can Death still do something against these vast and powerful forces? Even a lowly human like Steven might still have a part to play.
This is an engaging example of cerebral sci-fi, with writer / director Andrew de Burgh mentioning influences such as 2001. As with that classic, the pacing of this film is very slow, and if you aren’t prepared to ponder some deeply philosophical concepts, this isn’t the movie for you. Of necessity, the film tells rather than shows — even a massive Hollywood budget could only go so far in showing the almost unimaginable beings and bizarre dimensions Death speaks of — and the movie blames most of mankind’s ills on technology, which seems a little harsh to me. How else am I supposed to get my reviews read if not online? And at first, Steven’s character is not as sympathetic as he probably should be, though he does soon become more relatable.
The good news is that the slow pace generally works well, giving the audience time to grasp the concepts discussed, and something about the actors held my interest despite the fact that there’s nothing here that could be called action. So while it’s a mixed bag, overall it’s a successful experiment, creating a sci-fi realm in which the effects are in the viewers’s own imagination, which is the best sort of CGI anyway. Bhattacharya is particularly well-cast, with a genuine quality about her that helps her move beyond the ‘Death as a beautiful woman’ trope. It’s a promising and intriguing feature film debut for de Burgh, proving that satisfying science-fiction isn’t limited to the big studios.