SXSW 'Prospect' Review: You Had Me At 'Pedro Pascal Stars In Sci-Fi Western'
Pedro Pascal burst onto the world stage with a sexy, smirking bravado as Game of Thrones’ Oberyn Martell. Last summer, he spun that appeal into an over-the-top yet alluring cowboy in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Now, he returns to the Western, but with a science-fiction twist in the low-budget but marvelous indie Prospect. Though Pascal is captivating as a far-flung cowboy on a toxic moon, this is not his story, but that of a young girl played by newcomer Sophie Thatcher.
In a distant future, adolescent Cee (Thatcher) follows her prospector father Damon (Jay Duplass) from one untamed planet to another in search of highly valued gems that are difficult to unearth. Cee dreams of a settled life, where she could have a home and go to school. Damon promises after this one last job, they’ll be all set for that. But this moon is basically the wild west, rife with tricky terrain, greedy treasure hunters, would-be ravagers, and deeply dangerous gunslingers. Among them is Pascal’s Ezra, who becomes an unlikely ally.
Often a low-budget feel strangles science-fiction films. But this indie from writers/directors Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell makes smart use of its aesthetic. Shooting on location in a lush forest, then lacing in CGI floating dusty debris, they give Earth an efficient makeover into a mysterious moon where the air is unsafe. The space suits that our heroes wear are scrappy looking, but that makes sense considering their financial circumstances. And little else in this shrewdly made sci-fi film calls for showy effects. But what really sells Prospect is the sparking, volatile chemistry of Thatcher and Pascal.
Once misfortune befalls Cee and her dad, Ezra offers to help finish their big job before the final orbiting shuttle departs. But Cee’s not sure she can rely on this dangerous smooth-talker. She’s guarded and armed, and he’s trying his best to earn her trust with conversation, deep patience, and a frank warning: there are far worse men than him out there. Through scraps and rescues, a fragile friendship emerges, like a diamond in the rough.
Pascal grounds the film, digging into this roguish space-cowboy with a low growl and a wistful smile. Though this is far less theatrical than Game of Thrones or Kingsman, Pascal is nonetheless a charmer. And he seems perfectly at home in this gruff Western world. But it’s Thatcher who makes this movie.
In her first film role, she shoulders this story of an angry girl—a thing too rarely represented in cinema—who learns to trust in a faithless place. Often “guarded” can read as “blank” on camera. But Thatcher’s fierce stare blisters with intelligence and defiance, giving voice to words she dares not say. Then comes a crack in her tough exterior, where she’s comfortable enough with Ezra to rattle on about the fan fiction she’s writing. At that point, my heart was in my throat. I wanted no more pain to come to this fangirl, whose fondest wish was just to achieve a safe place where she could listen to music and read her YA books without fear of bandits, rapists, and treasure hunts. But before salvation can come, Prospect delivers a suspenseful showdown, featuring A Girl Walks Home At Night’s Sheila Vand as a mirthless mercenary.
Methodically paced but lovingly told, this is an intoxicating adventure made vibrant by stellar performances. Whether or not you love Westerns, sci-fi, Pascal, or stories about angry girls finding their strength, you’ll find Prospect is a gem.
Prospect made its World Premiere at the SXSW Conference.