Prospect (2018)

A prospect is a possible future to which one is looking forward. There is not much likelihood of that for teenaged Cee (Sophie Thatcher, excellent) and her father Damon (Jay Duplass), ‘floaters’ hopping from one planet to another on a wing and a prayer. They are running on empty: trying to pay off an impossible debt, under the thumb of mercenaries, and travelling in an old space vessel that is barely holding together. Like the father and daughter in Claire Denis’ High Life (2018), these two are on a journey together from which any return seems highly improbable – indeed Cee proves unsure where home even is. Here every moment is focused on pure survival, in a moon’s jungle-like environs that are toxic and every bit as hostile as the other desperate humans with whom contact is occasionally made. 

In the absence of hope, the title of Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl’s sci-fi in fact alludes to a prospect of a different kind: the location of a deposit of gems worth millions if properly extracted from the alien ‘Queen’s Lair’. Damon has the appropriate expertise and needs the money – but when he and his daughter cross paths with another prospector, Ezra (Pedro Pascal), Cee will find her fate tethered to this injured yet ruthless outsider, as both must depend on each other to get off this green moon and back on their endless travels.

Caldwell and Earl’s script is full of entirely unfamiliar (yet quickly rattled off) names for alien places, flora and fauna, and the dialogue is often rendered near inaudible by all the ambient sounds [although this may have been a fault of the speaker system in the theatre where I saw the film]. None of this really matters, however, in a plot so archetypal that it barely requires exposition. Combining elements of Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones (1958) and True Grit (whether Henry Hathaway’s 1969 original or the Coen brothers’ 2010 remake), Prospect may come with the interstellar trappings of sci-fi but, like Peter Hyams’ Outland (1981), it has as much in common with a frontiers western – right down to the misfiring guns (or ‘throwers’), the tent structures that accommodate those (like Andre Royo’s Oruf) who have gone native, the violent rush to mine a natural resource, and the sense that everyone is on the very edge of civilisation if not beyond it altogether. A thick oater accent can also be recognised in Ezra’s mannered old-world diction.

Meanwhile Cee’s coming of age plays out as a discovery of sympathy and bonding in a world where most are heartless and cynical. Perhaps she – and with her, humanity – have prospects after all.

© Anton Bitel