PROSPECT (dir. Chris Caldwell, Zeek Earl): Philadelphia Film Festival review

It takes a film like Prospect to realize how conditioned we as viewers are to representations of outer space. From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Interstellar, the treatment of space has never strayed far from being high-tech and extravagant. Even in more subversive space movies like The Fifth Element, any grit they inject is overshadowed by glamour. But grit is what makes Prospect feel so fresh. In this world, space isn’t the final frontier. It’s the California desert post-gold rush.

Premiering November 2, 2018 as distributor Gunpowder & Sky’s first venture with sci-fi label DUST, Prospect follows father-daughter team Damon (Jay Duplass) and Cee (Sophie Thatcher) as they attempt to mine a rare gem on a beautifully lush abandoned moon.It’s set somewhere in the recesses of the universe so deep that planet names are unrecognizable, and during a time so far in the future that space is stripped of that high-tech extravagant glamour. Space ships are equipped with clunky plastic parts and low-fi navigation screens, and are so laden with the dirt from years of use that they’re about as sleek as a pickup truck from the 90s.

Since the mechanics of space travel have been so obeyed over decades of film and television, one becomes very aware of their own space-related expectations while journeying through Prospect. Since this is not your average space movie, situations that would be dire plot points in similar movies are par for the course for Damon and Cee. Watching characters remain utterly unfazed through scenarios that meant life or death to the astronauts in Apollo 13 is a jolt to the system. It’s a fascinating exercise in how to play with stakes, as we project our learned anxiety onto characters for whom the lifeless void is a way of life.

The low-stakes effect is also achieved by avoiding the frequent sci-fi pitfall of too much world-building. There is next to no exposition for the plot to get bogged-down with, and, while refreshing, there are some moments when that works against itself. There’s so much unexplained context that it often feels like Prospect is the translation of some existing intellectual property for which one has no frame of reference.

But Prospect isn’t as interested in plot as much as it’s interested in exploration: the exploration of a lonely teenage girl set in extraordinary circumstances who longs to be ordinary, or the exploration into how a space movie functions without a hero (though the endlessly charming Pedro Pascal comes close as gunslinger Ezra). Or, generally, what a movie looks like when it’s demystified a genre long steeped in its own well-trodden tropes. In a film that feels like the start of something new, Prospect brings space down to earth.  

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