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‘The Discovery’: A Netflix Original Film About The Afterlife That’s Dead On Arrival

Hot off of Sundance, Netflix secured the rights to distribute The Discovery, a film about life, death, and the possibility of something else. The film features an all-star cast in a premise that serves as a great foundation for a thought-provoking film. Does it work? Read on to make that discovery.

The Discovery begins with Robert Redford playing Thomas Harbor in an interview about his “discovery.” Harbor proved the existence of an afterlife. As a result, suicide rates are drastically rising. The interviewer (Mary Steenburgen) asks a natural question: Does Harbor feel guilty for all the people now willing to die? Harbor answers no. The integrity of that reply is tested when a crew member kills himself on camera.

It’s one hell of a first scene for a film. The squeamish might not go further, but The Discovery isn’t about shock value. The film, directed by Charlie McDowell (The One I Love), features Jason Segel as Will Harbor, Thomas’ disapproving son. Will arrives at his father’s secluded mansion to find a strange, almost cult-like existence. Will’s brother, Toby, tries to rationalize life on the mansion despite the people there wearing different colored jumpsuits as if there was a cultish hierarchy.

The Discovery’s central conceit is about life after death. Naturally, it’s a dark subject under the weight of suicide and mental illness. The Discovery presents a Pro-Choice/Pro-Life debate wrapped in a romantic science-fiction thriller. It’s an odd combination that at first feels like it’s working.

The film’s suicidal start sets the stage for a moody movie that keeps viewers caught somewhere in between a dream and a nightmare. Muted colors provide a dream-like quality at times. However, it’s only during brief instances where this happens. Often, The Discovery is a by-the-numbers thriller with not a lot of thrills.

The film’s relationship grows inorganically in an attempt to tell some sort of compelling character narrative.

Creating a film is a long, complicated process that involves a lot of different people. The premise of The Discovery is one that could produce a thought-provoking piece of fiction. Just about every culture wonders “what happens next” after our existence is powered down for good. For a species that lives a short, but sweet, sensory-rich life, it’s a hard concept for humans to consider. For this reason, though, the concept is ripe for films like this. Somewhere along the line, what seemed to start out as a smarter update of Flatliners turns into a wannabe Eternal Sunshine.

At the core of The Discovery is a romance between Segel’s Will and Mara’s Isla. Individually, both actors have a host of noteworthy roles on their resumes. Segel, who so often plays a lovable oaf is a more cerebral and somber character as Will. Isla is a girl who believes in the afterlife and wants to get there soon. And everything hinges on their dynamic.

The Discovery doesn’t do a great job of making viewers care about Will or Isla. The film’s relationship grows inorganically in an attempt to tell some sort of compelling character narrative. On a larger scale, the effect the film’s key revelation has on the world isn’t explored much either. In the end, the film finds the afterlife but dies before making it an interesting place to explore for the rest of us.

Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.

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'The Discovery': A Netflix Original Film About The Afterlife That's Dead On ArrivalHot off of Sundance, Netflix secured the rights to distribute The Discovery, a film about life, death, and the possibility of something else. The film features an all-star cast in a premise that serves as a great foundation for a thought-provoking film. Does it...