An impressionistic and narration-free film, Ascension presents a kind of survey of how the burgeoning industrial might of modern China intersects with the potentially clashing demands of ultra-nationalism and rampant consumerism. Shot in dozens of locations around the country, [Jessica] Kingdon’s documentary casts a wide net in its settings, from factories to water parks to conference rooms. — The majority of Ascension is taken up with fly-on-the-wall footage of people at work. Often they’re assembling vast quantities of disposable material, including plastic water bottles and jeans, just a couple steps removed from the landfill. Many of the scenes have a mesmeric quality, helped along by Dan Deacon’s quietly vibrating score. — Even though Ascension is set in a many thousand-year-old culture, it feels as though it’s documenting a new society being born right in front of the camera lens.
Chris Barsanti, Slant
As engrossing as it’s alarming, the documentary flows with a stream of consciousness about the illusion of the “Chinese Dream.” Without blunt commentary other than the subtext Kingdon instills through the curation of the material, and some candid remarks of anonymous subjects, Ascension ruminates on many places of employment and career-advancement programs. — Kingdon’s imagery meanwhile gives the impression of spontaneity but communicates loudly who the beneficiaries and the victims are of relentless industrial growth.
Carlos Aguilar, rogerebert.com