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(The 2018 SXSW Film Festival kicked off March 9 and ran all the way through to March 17. Hammer to Nail has a slew of reviews and interviews coming in hot and heavy so keep your dial tuned to HtN!)

Making their feature debut with Prospect, filmmakers Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl have taken their beautiful, mesmerizing and eerie 2014 sci-fi short of the same name and turned it into an even more compelling work of art that is unlike any other low-budget space-travel film you have ever seen. Starring newcomer Sophie Thatcher and veteran indie and TV actors Jay Duplass (Landline) and Pedro Pascal (Javier Peña on Netflix’s Narcos), with additional cameos from Anwan Glover (Desiree), Andre Royo (Hunter Gatherer) and Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), the movie follows a desperate group of miners on a distant planet, gathering an amber-like material called “aurelac” that fetches huge prices on the intergalactic market. With its exteriors shot in the haunting Hoh Rainforest of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula (the filmmakers are from Seattle), the movie makes a virtue of limited resources, its low-end aesthetic contributing to the rawness of its survival narrative. Prospect is no fool’s gold, but the real stuff that dreams are made of.

Indeed, one should see it if for no other reason that it represents the perfect antidote to the CGI malaise of the current Marvel blockbuster era (though certainly there are fine examples of that genre). We find ourselves in a cinematic fantasy realized with brilliant, palpable visual texture, starting with the lo-fi spaceship in which teen-girl Cee (Thatcher) and her father (Duplass) arrive on the alien world, the handmade, rundown design of their ship and suits a tribute – though uniquely its own – to a film like Ridley Scott’s Alien. When they venture out, the majestic woods that greet them feel both familiar and not, tinted an almost too-golden light to be of our earth. And it is a most definitely hostile environment, as we learn, in which no human, sans helmet, can survive.

Soon after they land, Cee and her dad encounter two threatening individuals, one of whom, Ezra (Pascal), proves to be quite formidable, though he speaks in a strange cadence filled with literary turns of phrase that belie his menace. Once he shows up, the story takes quite a different turn than we first expected, and from then on, the joy of the narrative – despite the sometimes-gruesome on-screen action – is its sheer unexpectedness. The actors, even those in small roles, all shine, but it’s Thatcher and Pascal who own the movie. We believe in their characters, every step of the way.

By the time the movie ends, we are more than just involved; we are enthralled. The life-and-death risks the characters take send us on a thrilling journey of not only their own discovery, but our own. With Prospect, Caldwell and Earl announce themselves as talents to watch, for now and evermore.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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