Movie Review: ‘The Discovery’

Directed by: Charlie McDowell

Starring: Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, and Robert Redford

Plot: After the afterlife is scientifically verified, an epidemic of suicides convinces a man to return home.


Sometimes a movie comes around that you know nothing about. You’ve seen no trailers, haven’t heard any stories that could even lead you to anticipate. A hypeless movie is almost unheard of in the age of the internet, but an internet company, Netflix, is leading the charge. They play it close to the vest, and one weekend they threw up this tense, intimate sci-fi movie to very little fanfare. Do not get me wrong. This is a strength. 

Part of that missing hype is not knowing who made this flick, but it seems like a good thing that the whole time I was watching this movie, I thought it would make a great double feature with The One I Love, not realizing they were both directed by the same person, Charlie McDowell.


Charlie McDowell sets the tone for this movie right out the gate by putting the scientific mind behind the discovery that the afterlife is real, Thomas Harbor (played by Robert Redford), in a grim one on one interview with a reporter (played by the director’s mother, Mary Steenburgen). It’s foreboding, but you aren’t sure why until one of the reporter’s crew stands up, thanks the doctor, and proceeds to shoot himself in the head. McDowell seems to have a knack for this kind of movie. He takes a bigger sci-fi premise and filters it through a much more intimate human story. The sci-fi trappings play out like clever plot affectations, just a little narrative nudge to make the whole world seem like they lost their mind. No CGI. No action sequences. The “science” is not to serve spectacle but rather to challenge the human condition in the story it may never realistically get a chance to. Just like The One I Love, it feels like an extended episode of “The Twilight Zone.” 

With the new found knowledge that there is an afterlife, Will, the son of Thomas Harbor, returns home to the family he had estranged himself from. Apatow friend and sitcom alumnus, Jason Segel, takes on an out-of-character dramatic role and handles it with workmanlike dedication. Mostly an audience surrogate full of frustrated skepticism, he is there to say all the things we are thinking about the outlandish sci-fi concepts. However, as he goes deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, guided by Rooney Mara’s affable and curious on-screen love interest, he starts to take a much more active metaphorical role in his quest for closure.

Slow, clever, and candid, The Discovery strikes to the bone but never embraces the weird as much as it could. It feels like a lot was left unexplored in the concept as a whole, but, at the same time, it also feels like it is afraid to outstay its welcome. It ends on a great image and feeling but somehow there still feels like something is missing. Regardless, I still feel like this is a pretty good sci-fi yarn.

Rating: 8/10