23rd Oct2019

‘The Bestowal’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Sam Brittan, Sharmita Bhattacharya | Written and Directed by Andrew de Burgh

“Beliefs and perceptions, they transcend facts…”


Written and directed by Andrew de Burgh (whose previous work includes a number of short films and television documentary work), The Bestowal is a science fiction drama film that follows a businessman named Steven Karius who is on the brink of suicide. He is visited by an inter-dimensional being, a being who appears before him in the guise of a beautiful woman, naming herself as “Death”. We then witness the conversation unfold between Steven and Death as they speak of life, death and the universe. Death isn’t there to claim Steven’s soul, however, but instead intends to persuade him to keep living.

It’s a deep and incredibly intriguing high-conceptual film that plays out in a very unique manner, with Death meeting Steven during four separate times of his life, with just the two of them speaking, and no other characters in play. Whether or not the idea of simply having these two characters was a decision based on concept or budget doesn’t matter, it works, and while it has its limitations, I am a sucker for films that have a micro-cast and rely on story and the performances of the people to sell it. Sell it, they do. de Burgh has described the film as “a dialogue heavy film that explores the meaning of life” and that’s exactly what it is. I walked in to this entirely blind to what I was to experience, and wasn’t only impressed with the film, but intensely captivated by it and the ideas it contains. It’s riveting stuff, with both actors delivering high-quality performances, and the dialogue, of which there’s a lot, mostly landing and bringing some very compelling conversation into the proceedings.

There’s conversation about sin and about religion, about technology and its effects on the earth, arguments about the downfall of humanity and the causes of it. It feels like a stage-play at times, like something you would see in a dark theatre somewhere, with an intention to provoke thought and challenge ideas. It certainly had my attention held for its 90 minutes. I will say, though, that through the arguments and ideas, its many examinations of humanity and detailed rugby-tackling of our planet and the things that are spoiling it, there’s an element of being lectured, being sat down and spoken-at. I mean, anything that deals with themes like this can tend to feel that way, so I don’t think it matters too much, but if you’re somebody who would find that kind of thing irritating or frustrating, then perhaps walk into The Bestowal at arms-length and be aware of its intention to challenge.

The Bestowal is certainly a bit of a bizarre film, and not like anything I’ve really seen before, and in that way I have to give it a huge pat on the back and a big nod, because creating something wholly unique and as conceptually compelling as this in today’s world is quite the feat. It’s cold, not something you can invest in very emotionally due to its manner, but it makes a powerful attempt at saying something poignant and while it isn’t perhaps as smart as it wants to be, it’s still packed with dialogue that made me raise my eyebrow and keep on watching. The bond between the characters, Steven and Death, is where the power of the movie lies, with the chemistry shining between the two, and there’s a real strength in the storytelling and the way de Burgh went about separating the moments as these two characters were re-introduced to one another over various moments. Perhaps getting a touch lost within its own profound purpose, The Bestowal has real moments of brilliance among some shards of confusion, aggravation and stony-heartedness, and I recommend it, though I do think some will be put off by its two-person cast, its lecturing way or its low-budget look. I think more films, and filmmakers, though, could learn a thing or two from the sheer dauntless intention that is on offer here.

***½  3.5/5

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