Directed by Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl
If Star Wars was cowboys and Indians in space, this feature debut from Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl extends the sci-fi genre to cover another wild west figure: the prospector. Commonly envisioned as a toothless hick in a Stetson, talking of “gold in them hills”, the part’s given a futuristic makeover. This focus on working-class grunts, as opposed to heroic pilots, makes for a refreshing change from bloated space operas.
Said grunts are the blue-collar Damon (Duplass) and his teenage daughter Cee (Thatcher), who travel to a remote moon to scavenge for gems in order to pay off their debts. The aurelacs they are after (beats unobtanium at least) are very rare, though the money focused Damon seems to have found a prime site for them: Queen’s Layer. But as they begin to harvest them from their little slimy sacs, in a process both majestic and grotesque, it becomes apparent they’re not the only prospectors in the area: it’s a gold rush! Enter two bandits, including Ezra (played by Pascal from Game of Thrones) who curb their plans in ways that it’d be very easy to say too much about. Needless to say, the bulk of the film is devoted to Cee’s fight for survival in this strange new world.
Despite its austere budget, the production values don’t show it. The ship’s interior, whilst resembling a space Winnebago, is very detailed – with clear attention paid to each small prop. Likewise, the dock they leave is an impressive structure that gives the area outside an impressive scale. However, the star of the show is the boggy planet they touch down on. Granted, it looks like the woods of Washington state – though, with the glossy finish and a mutually eerie and ethereal soundtrack, it takes on a very alien quality. What’s interesting is the audience is thrown into it in the deep end, with no text scrolling up the screen or awkward pipeline dialogue to explain what’s what. The world building is exemplary, placing a lot of trust in the audience to suss out the situation and the technology since they’re everyday stuff for the characters. Weapons, jargon and even alphabet are all out of this world. Moreover, as new elements are introduced to the plot, including new characters or gizmos, they are done so organically.
However, the team’s ability to build equally compelling characters is less impressive. The key problem is that, right in the middle of the film, is a dramatic black hole. Thatcher plays Cee well and emotionally engages with the material. Yet there’s not that much of it. With a lot of the dialogue being functional and intergenerational bonds being explored so many times before, the story arcs lack the uniqueness of the film’s world. Pascal is similarly adept, speaking his at times lyrical lines well, though his transition from bad guy to anti-hero is unconvincingly hammered into the script. Throughout, people also die with minimal dramatic impact, which is a major blow given how small scale the story is. One bonding scene aside, there’s also an unfortunate lack of dramatic stakes for the main pairing’s journey. Given what they have been through together, and what one has done to the other, it’s unexpectedly hollow. And as they go between dangerous situations, it isn’t that there’s not a sense of threat – but that what threat there is doesn’t really matter. The result is an episodic feel, where events scarcely build on each other and there’s little forward momentum. Which is a shame, as there’s so much to like about it. But like the greedy dad, I was left wanting more.
Prospect is available on Bluray, DVD and VOD now.