'Hover': Film Review
A global drought and sinister agribusiness interests threaten America’s heartland in Matt Osterman’s sci-fi drama.
With drone technology transforming everything from motion picture cinematography to transportation, don’t be surprised to see flying robots tending crop fields, or at least that’s the future of agriculture envisioned by Australian screenwriter Cleopatra Coleman and American director Matt Osterman. Coleman also stars in Hover, a modest sci-fi drama with more on its mind than resources at its disposal that may disappoint fans of well-staged dystopian fiction, but isn’t likely to deter followers of Sharknado franchise producer Syfy’s steady stream of genre fare.
In a near-future society pushed to the brink by environmental collapse and agricultural failure, widespread cases of mysteriously fatal diseases are felling farmers across America’s heartland. Claudia (Coleman) and John (Craig MuMs Grant) travel the Midwest for Transitions corporation, providing end-of-life services for the afflicted, but bringing scant comfort to their families in the process. Across the region, they repeatedly encounter AI-guided agricultural drones run by Vastgrow, a vertically integrated corporation that provides farmers with everything from seed to pesticides to crop services.
John and Claudia have no idea just how integral Vastgrow is to their work until John dies unexpectedly, supposedly succumbing to the same illness as his clients and then taking his own life. Claudia doesn’t buy the suicide storyline however, even after her boss promotes her to John’s position and sends her back out on the road to service his clients. After meeting some of these families and hearing their stories about Vastgrow’s fleet of sinister drones, she teams up with local resident Isaiah (Shane Coffey) to learn the truth about the corporation’s plans for agricultural dominance.
One of the first tip-offs that Osterman may be wrestling with larger issues than he can easily get his arms around is the frequent insertion of stock footage to substitute exteriors of Midwestern farmland locations. Within the context of a drastically arid planet, these scenes look far too verdant and calm, contradicting one of the fundamental plot points of the film. Slightly more thought and effort appears to be invested in the drones’ design, but they’re not really very realistic as agricultural technology, although they do provide a menacing security presence with their microwave-zapping ability to fry mammalian nervous systems.
Coleman, notching her first feature screenwriting credit, certainly displays admirable ambition crafting herself a key role in a plausibly futuristic film, but neglects to provide sufficient detail to create a really immersive setting. Budget constraints are certainly one of the issues the filmmakers face, but Coleman’s rush to condemn corporations’ profit motive seems too simplistic and skimps on the details of social disintegration that the global agricultural crisis must necessarily provoke.
She fares somewhat better onscreen however, instilling Claudia with a determined drive to discover the truth behind Vastgrow’s stranglehold on regional agriculture and the families struggling to survive from one harvest to the next. Coffey turns up midway through the movie and provides some much needed-tension, but Coleman’s script doesn’t have enough heft to adequately develop the relationship between Claudia and Isaiah, which simplistically falls back on a trite survival dynamic. Always reliable, Beth Grant plays a suspicious local farmer tenaciously attempting to expose Vastgrow’s deadly deceptions.
Of course there’s plenty of drone cinematography to contextualize a series of modest chase sequences and strategic standoffs, but the attempt to stylistically imitate the film’s title doesn’t add much in terms of dramatic heft.
Distributor: SyFy Films
Production company: Snowfort Pictures
Cast: Cleopatra Coleman, Shane Coffey, Craig MuMs Grant, Fabianne Therese, Beth Grant, Rhoda Griffis
Director: Matt Osterman
Screenwriter: Cleopatra Coleman
Producers: Travis Stevens, Claire Haley
Executive producers: Chris Regina, Justin Smith, David Lawson, Stephanie Trepnanier, Cleopatra Coleman
Directors of photography: Stuart Brereton, Needham B. Smith
Production designers: Danica Vallone, Robert Wise
Editors: Frank Foster-Bolton, Matt Osterman, Zechariah Thormsodsgaard
Music: Wojciech Golczewski
Not rated, 88 minutes