Director duo Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl's first feature-length film is actually an expansion of a short film they released four years ago. Usually the result of such an expansion is a movie that has a good trickle of an idea that wears out too quickly, or a plotline that doesn't have enough substance. Caldwell and Earl have somehow managed to do the exact opposite -- in this compact movie that runs at 98 minutes, they manage to hint at a whole galaxy of stories and characters that exist vibrantly outside of this feature film.
Prospect opens on a usual humbling establishing shot of a spacecraft drifting amongst the stars, but this time the scene has all the romance of a scrappy VW van road trip that's gone on for too long. The equipment is beat, there are dirty smudges everywhere, and its inhabitants -- Cee and her father -- are a little greasy and none too pleased with each other's company. There's no glamour in this final frontier; instead, Cee and her father are more like a family barely hovering over poverty, living out their lives on some desperate jobs.
Their latest is a prospecting one for mercenaries. Damon has a set of skills that allows him to harvest a sort of space oyster through a series of complicated steps that if done right produce an amber-like jewel called an Aurelac. So far so good, until they're beset with snags such as a time crunch, an unwanted crash landing, and other unsavory characters after the same goods.
Prospect is a marvel of world-building, where there are hundreds of little details that have been thought out but aren't too gaudily displayed. The costumes are lived in, and the ragged breaths the actors drag in while encased in helmets are probably not feigned. Caldwell and Earl have more than once ruefully remarked that this kind of attention to detail only comes from immersing themselves in the Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia growing up. Whatever the cause, it's both their care and also their confidence in letting it stand for itself without overexplaining that make this film work. Caldwell and Earl opened up their own shops to create their props, costumes, and effects over the space of a year, and the few CG effects in the movie such as a giant moon backdrop seem like they're mined off of those old sci-fi paperbacks you could buy by the dollar.
Prospect relies almost completely on the shoulders of Thatcher, and she's a marvel of her own. Seemingly stoic at times, and yet hinting at a far complicated emotional depth that comes from her rich backstory, she's capable in a world where she's completely out of her depth. At many points, she lacks the skill to go forward, but not the fortitude. The growth of her character throughout the movie provides a surprisingly moving climax. Pedro Pascal, who plays another spaceman Ezra, chews through all of his lines, clearly evincing a pleasure at each line he has to drawl out, sounding like the narrator of Bastion. He's as delightful as he is improbable.
Besides the sheer satisfaction of a story well told, Prospect is also beautiful to behold. Shot primarily on indie favorites, cameras from RED digital, they've managed to transform the Hoh rainforest in Washington to something both bizarre and approachable. It's appropriate for this intimate space western, that feels both retro and startling current. Daniel L.K. Caldwell also provides an understated, yet stirring score.
Although Prospect hasn't been picked up yet for a wider release, it's a stunning debut that certainly deserves to be.