Unless you are making an experimental, avant garde or otherwise narrative-subverting film, if you are fifty minutes into a movie that runs a mere 86, then you damn well better a good sense of progression, what you want to say and where you want your story to go. Fifty minutes into HOVER, I still only had the vaguest idea what it was supposed to be about; there are so many story threads introduced, yet so few attempts to cohere them into a satisfying whole. There’s an arid, listless quality to HOVER as it dawdles along, dropping mere hints of plot points here and there, never building momentum or drawing us into its otherwise well thought out future world, at least until it realizes it is running of time and rushes headlong into its denouement on a wave of dumped exposition and meager action.
There are some things the movie does do right. It reminded me a lot of UPGRADE in its futuristic world building on a miniscule budget. It’s set in a near future where the VastGrow Corporation has became an agricultural powerhouse, patrolling the farmlands of heartland America from criminals and helping crops yield with a network of drones flying overhead. Rising at the same time is a corporation designed to help terminally ill folks end their lives peacefully and on their terms with travelling compassionate caregivers. Among these agents are Claudia (Cleopatra Coleman, who also wrote the screenplay), who has just discovered she is pregnant, and the kindly and much older John (Craig muMs Grant), Claudia’s partner and the man who trained her. When John dies unexpectedly, Claudia is given a sketchy new partner (indie genre regular Fabianne Therese) and senses something is amiss on their next trip to visit a dying man deep in the farmland.
There are the seeds here for a sci fi conspiracy thriller, with Claudia the innocent woman trapped in the middle of a vast and overarching conspiracy that she must bring down or lose her life on the process. And, in a way, that is what the film is — what, boiled down to a synopsis, it achieves. But the actual act of watching it is a vastly different animal, one that stumbles in pursuit of its goal. HOVER is glacially paced and gaseous, not so much tightening the noose around Claudia as loping from one scene to the next. There’s a lot of clunky drama and useless characters (Therese, for example, is utterly extraneous to her few scenes) and Claudia is a massively passive protagonist who doesn’t really drive the action, instead letting the plot happen to her. Coleman wrote the role as a showcase for her, and while she is adequate in the role, it is a character with so few layers and so little importance to the actual plot, that it feels like a wasted opportunity for the actress to show off her talent.
HOVER is a SyFy Channels production, and has a SyFy film it does look better, sound better and come off as more interesting than the campy schlock that is generally part and parcel of the network’s output. The first noticeable difference is in the score, the kind of synthwave-y ‘80s throwback that is all the rage these days yet out of place in a typical SyFy film. There is also the decided lack of hefty (and meagerly budgeted) CGI, aiming for a more grounded, character oriented science fiction tale. When the CG does show up, it’s only to bring to life the drones, which are the film’s main threat. Unfortunately, the few scenes where we get to see the drones in action — where they get their kill on or when the heroes have to fight them off — are slackly staged and stiff-jointed, blunting their impact.
I wish HOVER was a better movie than it actually is, because it actually has some interesting elements that seem to point to a more intriguing feature. Coleman and director Matt Osterman actually building an intriguing future world within their limited means, there’s more than a touch (in fact, it’s sometimes heavy handed) of social commentary and the very first scene hints at a bit of Verhoevian satire that the rest of the film doesn’t capitalize on. But the film slogs along and ultimately rushes its own climax, crushing any of the visceral thrills it limply showcases. If Coleman develops a stronger sense of structure and creates a more active, more indelible character for herself, and if Osterman works on his pacing, then they might have something. But, for now, they’ve made a film that only hovers around tepid.