Prospect

Set in the future, a skilled miner Damon (Jay Duplass) and his daughter Cee (Sophie Thatcher) have a contract to excavate some precious gems from a toxic forest on an alien moon. Damon’s plan goes awry when their weary and brittle craft botches the landing and throws them off course. But it is not only the atmosphere that is dangerous but also other visitors who intend to loot the land and anyone perceived weak enough to be taken advantage of. Damon is ambushed by Ezra (Pedro Pascal) and his sidekick muscle. The confrontation leads leads to a shoot-out that leaves only Cee and Ezra standing. With the only way off the moon by bargaining with mercenaries that Damon had a contract with, Cee must travel through the forest with the man that killed her father who she doesn’t know if she can trust for the likelihood that he might sell her out or leave her for dead.

There is a great deal to admire in this debut feature, adapted from a successful short by director and writing duo Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl, with Zeek also acting as the DOP to create a vision that makes the world cinematic and lush. It might be said that their set and prop design pays homage to 70’s sci-fi, opting for the technology to appear rudimentary and analogue, thus unreliable that adds to the obstacles Cee and Ezra must face. Sci-fi is traditionally expensive but Caldwell and Earl have pulled off a vision that punches well above its financial constraints and have created an indie sci-fi that Shane Carruth (Primer), William Eubank (The Signal) and Gareth Edward’s (Monsters) made their reputation from.

Whilst Caldwell and Earl overcome the aesthetics that can blight low-budget sci-fi films, the script and performances are largely a let down. Sophie Thatcher as Cee should be tasked with carrying the real emotional journey of the film but fails to convince or leave the audience fearing for her safety. It is established that the relationship with her emotionally stunted father is non-existent. Her frustrations that she can’t be a normal teenage girl while in contrast her father is frustrated that Cee lacks the maturity to be the partner he needs. The passing of Cee’s mother is not explained, but although there seems to be scarring, there is not quite and deep lying trauma for the both of them. When Cee loses her father, her behaviour is not one of someone who has just become an orphan stranded on an alien planet with no way out. Ezra who sounds like a Texan thesp grifter, is likely to split audiences with some who might like the dialogue nuance while some might find his poetic mumblings grating. It does mean that the audience’s eyes are likely to fall on him, which reflects on the underwritten characters that Cee and Ezra come across in their journey, including a vastly underused Andre Royo who many will recognise as Bubbles from the Wire. There is also a slow burn feel to film that at first is acceptable and if anything this is mostly a western set in space thus the slow burn approach makes sense, but when nothing ever truly climaxes, you feel that Caldwell and Earl have been stalling for time to make a feature from a script that’s thin on plot or creating characters with depth that an audience could get behind.

Prospect is a strong enough debut that there will be plenty of people see them be giving a sizeable budget to create other interesting and mesmeric worlds, though perhaps they might be best to leave the script duties to someone else or hire a more demanding script editor. This is also the first feature part produced by sci-fi channel Dust and hopefully it’s the first of many.

★★★

Chris Aitken

Prospect makes its British premier at the Prince Charles Cinema London on April 11th


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