“It felt right in this movie for all those reasons. It was an easy way to wrap some of those concepts into sci-fi. Historically, we have come to know sci-fi as a lens to interpret or look at society but do it at arm’s length almost. It’s a little more acceptable and more approachable. It’s not you who we are talking about, it’s other people, like people in the future. It provides a luxury to talk about these things without being too preachy.” – Director Matt Osterman on addressing hot-button themes of tomorrow in a world of today in HOVER.
Directed by Matt Osterman and written by actress Cleopatra Coleman, the science fiction thriller HOVER hits theaters on June 29th and on VOD July 3rd from Syfy Films. Taking a huge step up from the normal features seen as part of Syfy, HOVER wraps the science fiction styled visual film within a timely narrative addressing themes and issues that feel like it takes place as much now as it does in the dystopian future it is set. During this insight and review of the film, we spoke with Director Osterman about certain elements of this film to add depth to this review.
HOVER revolves around two corporate businesses, VastGrow and Transitions, that sell relief during catastrophic worldwide events which have begun to damage the earth. Not the typical “end of the world” scenario so many science fiction films push, HOVER‘s pace begins to build the tension from the opening sequence and narration. The narrative revolves around VastGrowwho have developed two types of drones to help aid humanity. The first drone helps to regulate farming and agriculture in the wake of devastating worldwide events. The second is a “sentinel” drone that, through military technology, is monitoring and protecting those during the chaos.
A young woman named Claudia (Coleman) and her mentor John (Craig Mums Grant) work for Transitions. Their business revolves around assisting those who are terminally ill and the preparation afterwards. After another death of a farmer within the same region of land, Claudia learns that John has also taken his own life instead of withering away. Something doesn’t feel right to Claudia who believes that she is doing the right thing and the technology is serving its proper purpose. Taking on a new partner quickly, Claudia begins to see things are just not fitting in these growing deaths that they are assisting on.
As Claudia begins to put the pieces together and question events around her, she realizes that the work she has been doing is shroud in mystery and more. A feeling of paranoia starts to build as she deals with sudden dangers targeted at her, aimed at taking her life with the same technology. Claudia aligns herself with a local farmer and former client named Joanna (Beth Grant) and a VastGrow repairman named Isaiah (Shane Coffey). As the pieces come together, they discover that the two large corporations have a surprising connection to the technology and make Claudia and the those around her targets until they can reveal the truth.
Snowfort Pictures, which was founded by Travis Stevens, is one of the best production houses for developing quality narrative and characters. Osterman talked about working with them, “I have always kind of looked up to [Travis]. He’s got great pace and great sensibilities. I was kind of blown away as I definitely wanted to play in that sandbox.” I will be the first to say that HOVER was very surprising. I was not expecting much because of the Syfy Films connections. Having moments which are rooted in the dark corners of the genre, Osterman, Coleman and Snowfort’s Travis Stevens craft a film with a narrative that is not your typical sci-fi adventure. Like most of Snowfort’s films, such as Buster’s Mal Heart (2016), Mohawk (2017), and 24×36: A Movie About Movie Posters (2016), Snowfort can turn coal style content into diamonds. Now please, don’t think I am taking anything away from the overall talent of Coleman or Osterman for directing a good film, it just takes a village to make a quality film. However, it takes a spark to burn down the big bad and we see that in HOVER.
HOVER has a central message and question: Is humanity evil or is the technology? HOVER‘s narrative pushes boundaries and addresses themes that are truly relevant now. Osterman talked about dying in the film, “This is something people can probably latch on to in a more humanistic way. That’s a little more frightening because this could be you or a loved one. We have seen people die in that way. It happens often with botched medical procedures. It is a scary way to go and we were able to play that card in a real way.”
Beyond addressing dying, other themes like the use of technology, power, survival, being human and more, HOVER connects the present and the future in this underdog style story. Osterman touched on one very prevalent one in the film with how technology was introduced into the narratives: “We wanted to slow play it, partly because these drones are tools. They are not some monsters, not slashers, they are tools used by humans. We really wanted to take the time and effort to establish these things as utilitarian pieces of that society. Actually, I should say our society. Technology is not inherently evil, so we wanted to play up that aspect. I am not anti-technology, Cleo is not anti-technology and Travis isn’t either. Unchecked technology in the hands of humans, historically, we have seen some pretty poor choices.”
The drone work is smart, the technology serves a purpose throughout and explodes in the final act. HOVER‘s technology balances with the futuristic direction. The look of the film has a dust-bowl style that is reminiscent of the literary adaptation of Of Mice and Men. This is developed with brilliant costume design and FX makeup to go along with the visual FX and technology on a very minimalist canvas. The practical FX makeup does a solid job in reflecting the worn down and fading victims of the mysterious illness that is killing the farmers. The deaths by the drones reflect a bit of Scanners and more recently, The Mind’s Eye, with the power they radiate. While this film doesn’t reinvent the wheel with FX, they do create some potent moments and add a bit of pop to the layered story. The FX also adds to the sinister building with the evil of humanity and technology being used as a tool.
HOVER’s casting is more than the cookie cutter white performers. It is refreshing to see variety in the casting with this very talented cast. Headed by mult-talented and emotionally diverse Coleman, HOVER‘s ensemble includes Coffey, Grant and performers Rhoda Griffis, Fabianne Therese, Leo Fitzpatrick, Jim Gleason, and more.
HOVER‘s narrative cultivates a growing tension and paranoia throughout. Osterman’s direction has glimpses of a Polanski’s style building of tension and character reactions. Certain characters like Claudia have to always feel like they are looking over their shoulders and are off-balance from the choices that are made and actions that are followed through. Osterman talked about this with the characters: “We wanted to work with the idea of introducing a character through glass or behind curtains, to build this kind of artificial world between Claudia and someone she was meeting for the first time. We were finding ways in the story to tighten the screws and keep people kind of anxious to what is next!”
The dystopian world does not stray too far from where we are now and that is showcased in the sets. Filming on location in Louisiana with flowing lands, beautiful backdrops and gothic homes, the canvas of the film reflects an appropriate landscape that shows a realistic result of the world’s sins. Like the authentic backdrops which are a playground for various action sequences, the score, by talented composer Wojciech Golczewski, ranges the emotional spectrum throughout.“We [Osterman and Stevens] both had used him [Golczewski] on separate projects. It just made too much damn sense [to use him again]! He is so easy to work with and he is kind of a genius. He brings that layer of texture and nuance that kind of transcends the typical score and soundscape. The tone was correct also.” says Osterman.
For me, the running time limited more development where it was needed. The film has a beauty to it that reflects desperation and reality-based horror. The problem with this is that because of the runtime, budget and perhaps other facts, it’s an overview of the terror. HOVER neede more development and visual presentation to show how such events could cause a worldwide change resulting in a shift and need for these drones and ascending services. Story arcs like Isaiah’s origins and rebellion allowed for more development and room for the technology to go wild in the third act. The personal storyline surrounding Claudia and her pregnancy, as well as further backstory on the corporations at play, needed some more development as you only catch glimpses as opposed to the full picture. Remember, a rebellion story might be a series of actions to change the status quo but it takes much more to build and cause it.
Overall, HOVER does have more substance than many of the Syfy films you will see. At the center of it all, Osterman, Coleman and Stevens have something to say about our future against a science fiction canvas. You will find plenty to connect with throughout along with a childlike freedom in the third act when it becomes man versus machine. There is an overall freedom to the storytelling and science fiction partnership that we see especially with Claudia who gets that wakeup call from the technology coma she was in, to real life where she finds out what is behind the dark curtain. HOVER is definitely a sci-fi thriller that you will want to check out when it hits theater and/or VOD.