Typically when the word ‘prospector’ is thrown about, thoughts of the 19th century gold rush may spring to mind. But now, in an unknown but perhaps not too distant future, prospectors now traverse alien planets in search of valuable gemstones. Damon (Jay Duplass) and his daughter Cee (Sophie Thatcher) are just one small cog of a larger working-class machine: space explorers trying to turn a profit from their harvest, scoping out the precious stone Aurelac, carved from what seems to be an embryonic-type sac of an unknown buried creature on the planet Bakhroma Green.
A mid-budget retro-infused sci-fi with a western sensibility, Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell’s Prospect, adapted from their 2014 short film, wastes no time in thrusting its detailed world upon us with little explanation. Expecting the audience to piece their visual treat of a puzzle together themselves, we meet Damon and Cee just as they land on Bakhroma Green, preparing their kit for the mission ahead. It’s a lush and dense rainforest planet not unlike The Shimmer from Alex Garland’s Annihilation. But its green beauty cloaks an air that is poisonous to inhale without a filtration system. Clearly in a dangerous line of work, Damon is looking to get out, hoping that a harvest from a supposed ‘Queen’s lair’ on the planet will bring enough wealth for him and his daughter to leave the prospecting life behind.
Enter Ezra (Pedro Pascal), a stranded rival prospector looking to steal Damon and Cee’s harvest. Pascal is quietly brilliant in this role, teetering on the edge of a life-worn and ageing cowboy stereotype, with a scowl and Southern drawl, but always reeling it back, exploring the shifting power dynamics between himself and Cee as both captor and victim. Sophie Thatcher is sadly given less to do: she understands her need to survive from the get-go, so her arc rarely reaches great heights. However, she does feel like an authentic teenager, clearly fed up with her father and always wearing an incredibly cool pair of ornate gold and blue headphones whenever she gets the chance to take her space helmet off.
Wielding various guns that fuse simplicity, futurism with the style of inverted cowboy pistols, the pair journey across the planet, finding the visitors inhabiting it more hostile than the landscape itself. It is during these various encounters that the film’s outstanding world-building really shines. Each group is given a distinct costume style, merging together retro design with a thrifty need to utilise a moderate budget. Space suits look like they have been modified from vintage diving gear, motocross body armour and boiler suits by the films vast costume team that contributes to a sense of place and history the film doesn’t feel the need to explore. Boxy 60’s space tech is endearing with a futuristic twist, but could have easily been created from plumbing and electrical spares. All of this of course a huge compliment that raises the expectancy of what can be achieved in mid-budget films with a dash of ingenuity.
Confident in its sci-fi knowledge from the 60’s to present day indies like Moon, Prospect acknowledges these references and schemas but confidently creates something fresh and vibrant. Merging its sci-fi story line with some Western tropes keeps the story human, reducing the need for tech-based language or set-pieces that could overcrowd the lead characters. Too much focus perhaps went into the film’s design, as opposed to creating compelling arcs for each character. But the well-defined parameters of Earl and Caldwell’s visual world certainly makes them filmmakers to look out for.
Dir: Zeek Earl, Christopher Caldwell
Scr: Zeek Earl, Christopher Caldwell
Cast: Jay Duplass, Sophie Thatcher, Pedro Pascal, Andre Royo
Prd: Tracey Bing, Jason Cloth, Chris Conover, Aaron L. Gilbert, Brenda Gilbert, Andria Spring, Paul Tennyson, Steven Thibault, Stan Thomas, Dave Wells
DOP: Zeek Earl
Music: Daniel L.K. Caldwell
Run time: 98 minutes
Prospect is out on Blu-Ray, DVD and VOD on April 22nd