Prospect ★★★½

”I'm not here to prospect. I'm here to harvest.”

What a wonder a good science-fiction film can be with a high concept and low budget if you've got talented filmmakers and screenwriters. Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell bring a smart taut story in the inventive movie Prospect, starring Pedro Pascal, Sophie Thatcher, and Jay Duplass.

This is the first film I'm watching as part of a little film club -- Josh, George, Mr_Macaroon, Brock, Zeke, and Stuart are just some our private group, others not on LB but in another social media we share -- but I'm still going to write a review like usual, just posting it a little late.

Some time in the future, a teenage girl and her father are space foragers, searching for priceless gems on distant moons. They grow in toxic forests, with asphyxiating gases and poisonous plants and other creatures; the two quickly learn, also, that they are not alone and are accosted by competitors.

In what suddenly becomes a little more of a western genre than hard sci-fi, the father/daughter team must navigate the dense terrain and double-crossing gun-toting outsiders who ruin their plans. There is more than one allusion to another era of a gold rush, of sorts. True to this surprising genre twist, there's something of a standoff with futuristic pistols that ends with a deadly shock, only a half hour into the film. Combined with just enough computer graphics and a touch of special effects -- with some beautiful cinematography and refreshingly simple but realistic set pieces and production design -- what may have been a dull tale becomes an enriching one at each new step.

With all that said, at times the film is a little too heavy on dialogue. And usually, the technical terms and extraterrestrial plot are presented in such a matter-of-fact way (“oh, the living gem just disintegrated back into its slimy host? well sure just dump that acid stuff on it and it'll be fine”) that at times it's just strange as opposed to interesting. The 70s-style aesthetic is a cool touch -- you'll see what I mean with the helmets -- but inspire odd dichotomies of incredible spaceships yet spacesuits that appear like canvas and plastic.

Sophie Thatcher -- in what I believe is her feature film debut -- makes for an excellent heroine, one not trapped down by many of the usual clichés of young female leads. (Plus, it's refreshing to see a teenage character actually played by a teenage actor.) But Pedro Pascal is the star here, as the mysterious outsider who comes with complicated motivations; he's a character actor who totally steals every scene in which he's featured here. Overall this is a solid entry into the small but growing genre of low-budget intelligent science-fiction. Nothing groundbreaking, but a really enjoyable film.

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