Prospect (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A western tale on an alien planet

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“Prospect” is an interesting juxtaposition of two different familiar genres. Mainly set on an alien environment in the distant future, it initially looks like your average old-fashioned science fiction tale with some rustic sides, it gradually becomes a western tale equipped with spacesuits instead of cowboy hats and boots, and I enjoyed its eclectic mood and style enough to forgives its several notable shortcomings.

As reflected by its very title, the early part of the movie focuses on the prospect process of a guy named Damon (Jay Duplass) and his young daughter Cee (Sophie Thatcher). During the opening sequence, we see them spending some time in a space pod attached to a big freighter, and we come to gather that they are about to arrive in an alien planet which contains a considerable amount of something called aurelac. Although the movie does not explain much about that material, it seems to be as precious as gold, and that makes it quite worthwhile to prospect for despite the toxic dust in the atmosphere of the planet.

Once their space pod is detached from the freighter after the arrival in that alien planet, Damon and Cee land on a remote forest area, and then they immediately work on a spot near their landing site while wearing their spacesuits. Like their space pod, their spacesuits look shabby and jaded, and these and other details shown on the screen certainly contribute more to the decidedly old-fashioned style of the movie.

The movie pays some attention to how they prospect for aurelac. At first, they dig the ground for searching for a sticky alien biological matter, and then they carefully handle it step by step for extracting aurelac from it. With Cee’s assistance, Damon peels it off with uttermost caution for a good reason, and he eventually succeeds to extract aurelac, which looks like a smooth, translucent glass ball.

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Not long after that, something unexpected happens while they separately are going around in the forest. Damon happens to encounter a couple of other prospectors who are also looking for aurelac, and he instantly warns to his daughter via their walkie-talkie. If he and Cee are not careful, they may get killed for what they are currently prospecting for, so he tries to handle tactfully the increasingly tense situation between him and these two guys.

I will not tell you what happens next, but I can tell you instead that Cee eventually finds herself in a very desperate situation. While she manages to get back to the space pod, she unfortunately fails to launch the space pod due to a mechanical problem, and it looks like there is no other way for her to get out of the planet before the freighter leaves.

And then there comes Ezra (Pedro Pascal), one of those two guys encountered by her father. Although Cee understandably does not welcome him much, Ezra makes a good point on why they need to help each other for their common goal while putting aside their mutual hostility, and Cee agrees to accompany him because there is clearly no other option for her besides that.

What follows after that point is a typical western tale of survival. While connected with each other via an airline, Cee and Ezra begin a risky journey to a certain spot where they may be rescued, and, of course, they go through several bumpy moments during their journey. At one point, they happen to encounter a group of people who have settled there for many years, and they receive some modest hospitality from these people, but then, not so surprisingly, it turns out that these people want something from Ezra and Cee. When Ezra needs some medical treatment later in the story, Cee shows that she is a lot more resourceful than she seems, and we accordingly get the grisliest moment in the film, which is thankfully presented with considerable restraint.

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Although the screenplay by directors/writers Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell, which is developed from their 2014 short film, often trudges along its rather thin narrative, the movie mostly works as steadily establishing its alien environment around its main characters. Also working as the cinematographer of the movie, Earl provides a number of impressive visual moments packed with vivid, palpable atmosphere to be appreciated, and I was a bit surprised to learn later that those countless toxic dusts shown in the film are not CGI but real dusts.

It surely helps that the movie is supported well by its main cast members. Although her character feels a little too flat, Sophie Thatcher brings enough life and personality to her character at least, and her strong performance is complemented well by a more colorful performance from Pedro Pascal, who did a good job of making Ezar likable to some degree despite his untrustworthy aspect. In case of the other notable performers in the film, Jay Duplass is adequate in his substantial supporting role, and so are Sheila Vand, Anwan Glover, and Andre Royo.

Although it is not entirely without flaws, “Prospect” is a solid feature film debut from Earl and Caldwell. I must point out that it occasionally looks like they stretch their original story a bit too long, but they show here that they are good filmmakers who know how to engage us via mood and storytelling, and I admire the ambition in this small result of theirs. Yes, it is a modest start for them, but it may lead to more good things in their career.

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