★★★ out of ★★★★★
A curious little space-western-thriller, with a standout acting job by Pedro Pascal.
Directed by Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl.
Prospect is one of those kinds of movies that dances around the periphery of horror without actually delivering any horror. It’s a bit of a hit and miss effort, but what it does give you is heartfelt performances by the two leads, Sophie Thatcher and Pedro Pascal. The movie is a conglomeration of a number of genre types, and much of the time, I spent this movie scratching at the back of my brain thinking… what does this remind me of? Part of me thinks this is like a Clint Eastwood western, something like Pale Rider. Mash that up with a frenemies science fiction story like Enemy Mine, that forces two adversaries to learn to trust each other to get to safety… so it’s also a science fiction survival tale. And there’s a bunch of surgery scenes, and some scenes that remind you of the Alien egg chamber. (Really, you want to reach your hand into THAT?)
So, again, a curious piece. The story synopsis I will try and keep to a minimum so as not to spoil the main thrust of the story. The movie opens on a space station, where a couple of wildcat prospectors are preparing to do a terrestrial drop planetside to make their fortune. It’s a father and daughter team, where the impatient Dad, Damon (Jay Duplass) believes he is on the cusp of a mother lode of treasure. His Daughter, Cee (Thatcher), is anxious about making this drop since the station is about to cease operations for a cycle and the prospectors will be out of communication for a significant chunk of time, so they have determined that they will return “on the other end of the sling”. So… start the clock! The treasure in question are some gems that get harvested from the most alien aspect of the whole movie, an organism that resembles a sea anemone/urchin and contain in its gullet, a highly fragile but extraordinary gemstone. It is never discussed what makes this gem valuable to anybody… just that it is. A true MacGuffin.
Their dropship is an unreliable bucket of bolts, and of course, something goes wrong. They end up off course and have to alter their trajectory and their landing site, and at this point, you’re really not sure what the plan is. Truth be told, you’re really never sure what the plan is, other than they know there is a “queen” organism that should contain a score that will make the two of them incredibly rich. Where they land does not look alien at all. It looks like the forests of the coast range of Oregon. Except that there are alien spores drifting everywhere, so Damon and Cee need to wear space-suits in the environment. It may look like ferns and vine maples, but apparently, it’s all very toxic.
They scavenge an abandoned dig site, and manage to extricate a significant gemstone (which is encased in a meatball like organ) and after a bit of exposition that finally clues us in as to what they’re doing on the planet, are soon set upon by two armed strangers… and there is… a situation. The initial encounter of Ezra and Damon is appropriately tense. They are posturing with each other as both men are looking to suss out who is in on the better score, and who has the firepower advantage. It’s played out quite well.
Eventually, the group dynamics change… there is a fight… make that fights… that leave some dead and some injured, and the dropship unable to launch. The surviving group has to bond together to put aside their recent unfortunate encounter in order to get off the planet (and maybe still get rich at the same time.)
There are a lot of moments that remind you of non-horror movies, like bounty hunter movies (western or not) where one person always has a gun trained on the other until at some point they learn that they need to trust each other to make it to safety. Oh, that old chestnut! Yep. What makes this all work is that Pedro Pascal is an actor who can charm the spots off a leopard. His story arc is wonderfully crafted. I think that what gnaws at me about this movie though, is that there were so few attempts to make this place feel other-worldly. You had to rely on the space-suits to sell the idea that they were on another world. Pandora, this ain’t. This looks like they landed halfway up to Mount Hood… but with pollen/mold/alien motes drifting around. It is beautifully shot… but if sasquatch came out around the corner it would not have been a surprise.
The movie did spend some money on the space dock. That c.g. looked terrific, and there were a few shots with a giant planet hovering over the horizon that, similar to a movie like Predators, sells the otherworldliness… on occasion. The space capsule that looks more analog than the Mercury Redstone missions seems appropriately funky given the nature of the prospectors. I think another alien critter, even fleetingly shown, would have helped sell this look. I won’t complain about the hodge-podge space suits though. It does look like all the characters went to the local dive shop and cobbled together something using vacuum cleaner hoses, a gas mask, and a Tupperware tub. And, I bet that’s what the propmaster did. However, given that these are the hard-scrabble fringe of society scavengers, this in an odd way made sense. the biggest horror opportunity that was had was a surgery scene… and if they had decided to really go for it and show what they only suggested, it would have been brutal… though they did show enough to be convincing.
I definitely liked aspects of this movie and found it pretty entertaining overall, but there were no big wow moments. Anything that suggested that it rose above its simple roots. The fun pseudoscience and the careful roll out of the exposition (which may have been held off a little too long) also worked. If you are a fan of the awkward buddy road-shows you might really enjoy this film. For others, it may just seem a little too familiar for a little too long.
Prospect is showing at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival on Sunday 8/12 at 7:00 PM. This movie has not been rated, though I would probably put this at a PG-13. (Even with the somewhat gory surgery scene)