The sci-fi Western film Prospect is also described as a coming of age movie. However, filmmakers Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl turn that approach on its head. The central character, a girl named Cee, in many ways has skipped childhood. What that means for her and others is at the root of this indie film, the first feature film distributed by Gunpowder & Sky's sci-fi label DUST.
The movie in general is an impressive accomplishment. Wearing its inspirations on its sleeve (original Star Wars trilogy, Alien and Blade Runner) and inspired in part by its limited budget, the film conjures a galactic frontier that is hardscrabble, shoestring and, above all, risky. Equipment is old, spacesuits are bare bones, nerves are frayed and trigger fingers itchy.
We view this inhospitable world through the eyes of a teenage girl, played with steely reserve by Sophie Thatcher, who has been forced to grow up fast as she and her father explore the fringes of the galaxy for rare resources. The central story of what happens to the pair on a toxic moon and beset by dangers all around them is a vehicle for Cee's growth despite being resourceful beyond her years.
In fact, I initially found her character to be problematic. She comes across as being cold and detached when the opposite would be expected, whether experiencing trauma or inflicting it. But there are moments, sometimes subtle, that reveal why. Indeed, the challenges she is faced with on this moon demonstrate how life on this razor's edge demands a certain quality, and sacrifice.
The potential spoils attract all manner of people despite the risks, all desperate, tough, brutal and selfish. The characters share these traits but on a spectrum. Her father, Damon (Jay Duplass), is seemingly single-minded in his greed and self-indulgence. Ezra (Pedro Pascal) is a swaggering bandit that crosses their path. Throw in peculiar settlers like Oruf (Andre Royo) or wary mercs like Inumon (Sheila Vand) and the stage is set.
What's especially interesting is that Cee becomes a resource, in some cases the resource, as the story plays out. The rare gems they all seek might be the vehicle for the action in general, but her place is always central to how every scenario unfolds. And in each predicament she is forced to act in ways that are uncharacteristic for someone her age, but not necessarily for a teen in this world.
To Thatcher's credit, and the filmmakers (who also penned the script), we do see glimpses of the girl she used to be and, in some ways, still is. There is an innocence that can be gleaned from things she says or her behavior at times that suggests a childhood lost -- and potentially found. Cee's interaction with Ezra chips at her facade enough to reveal the girl inside.
And in this way her character grows but in complicated ways. Yes Cee is stronger, more confident and assertive as she faces her challenges, but she also lets her guard down at times and gets in touch with the inner child that in many ways she'd been forced to abandon. It's a deft portrayal -- and narrative -- that can manage such an evolution.
In some ways, then, I have come to the conclusion that Cee is more badass than Aliens' Ripley. What she is forced to do by circumstance, at such a tender age, demonstrates the brutal demands of this celestial Wild West. All of which would not be possible without the world crafted by the filmmakers and inhabited so well by the ensemble cast. Prospect in this regard is an indie film that rises above its ambitions.
I've tried to avoid spoilers so viewers can experience the story without having it ruined. It deserves to be seen without any preconceived notions about the genres represented or the tropes one might expect to find. That I focused on Cee's journey surprised even me as the narrative (and world) is much richer than just that arc, but in retrospect this blog could not have been about anything else.
Prospect released last Friday at Regal theaters nationwide. My impressions are based on an advance screener of the movie. For more on the film, please see the following blog (includes SPOILERS):
L.A. Comic Con 2018: Prospect Panel Q&A: A discussion with select cast and crew on the production of this new independent sci-fi Western.
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