Earlier this weekend, this writer had the opportunity to check out two wildly different films that enjoyed their world premieres as part of SXSW’s 2018 Visions slate: Fritz Böhm’s Wildling and Prospect from the directorial team of Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell. Even though both movies feature a coming-of-age tale that centers on the relationship between a father and daughter, they are vastly different from each other, with Wildling going for more of a modern fairy tale approach, and Prospect being something of a scrappy yet wonderfully ambitious sci-fi western.
Wildling: For his feature film debut, Fritz Böhm introduces us to the world of “wildlings,” dangerous forest-dwelling creatures who steal and feast upon small children. We’re told about the threat they pose via a bedtime story from Daddy (Brad Dourif) who reminds his young daughter Anna of the threats that exist all around her. Because of the wildlings, Anna is kept under lock and key in the attic by her Daddy, growing up in seclusion with no understanding of the outside world. Eventually, a teenaged Anna (Bel Powley) is discovered by local law enforcement, and, unable to return to her home, she is taken in by the kindly Sheriff Cooper (Liv Tyler), who tries to teach Anna a few things about becoming a part of society, with the help of her younger brother, Lawrence (Mike Faist). As Anna struggles to make sense of the world at large, her body begins to undergo some dramatic changes, forcing the young woman to come to terms with the truth behind the wildlings and just what Daddy had really been protecting her from all along.
In the realm of genre film, we have no shortage of great coming-of-age stories in which body horror taps into the fears that so many of us face as we transition into adults, shedding our innocence and becoming more aware of ourselves and how we fit into our respective cultures. With Wildling, Böhm admirably taps into all those anxieties via Anna, whose wide-eyed simplicity struggles to comprehend the do’s and don’ts of normal human behavior. The film works exceedingly well as a “fish out of water” story, but once Anna starts to undergo some horrific changes in the movie’s second half, a palpable sense of creeping terror settles into Wildling, and it feels like the movie really starts to gel and come into its own.
Across the board, the performances in Wildling are all incredibly strong, with Powley delivering a truly powerful portrayal of a young woman who must confront the truth of her existence and her fate. The young actress does an amazing job here. Dourif rules as always, and Tyler is absolutely lovely in Wildling as well. And, as someone who absolutely adores Point Break, I geeked out hard at the arrival of James LeGros, who plays a character referenced as “The Wolf Man,” who becomes a key figure in Anna’s life and path of discovery. Wildling also features some stunning cinematography and great special effects. IFC Midnight is releasing Böhm’s debut in April, and I do recommend that genre fans keep an eye out for Wildling (it would make for a great double feature alongside Ginger Snaps or even last year’s Raw).
Movie Score: 4/5
Prospect: As someone who relishes science fiction cinema at every budgetary level (although low budget is my favorite, just because directors have to work harder to achieve a sense of wonder and I appreciate that kind of exemplary effort), Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell’s Prospect is an excellent reminder that filmmakers don’t need a $50 million budget to shoot for the stars (pun wholly intended here). An intimately crafted sci-fi/western mash-up that reminded me in some ways of Duncan Jones’ Moon (with its approach, not its story), Prospect effectively proves that if you have heart and ambition, you don’t need a ton of money to deliver up an awe-filled cinematic experience that can transport you anywhere in the universe.
Prospect is centered around Damon (Jay Duplass) and his daughter, Cee (Sophie Thatcher), who work together as terrestrial miners, traveling to planets and moons all over the galaxy. As they arrive at their latest job, where they hope to mine some rare orbs that will get them out of debt and out of their grueling and dangerous careers as well, their biggest threat isn’t the exceedingly toxic terrain they must traverse, but a marooned man (Pedro Pascal) whose own sense of greed puts all of them in jeopardy, forcing Cee to take charge if she ever hopes to escape the uninhabitable alien moon alive.
Embracing a retro-futuristic sci-fi approach, Prospect is an absolute home run from writers/directors Earl and Caldwell, who deliver an impressive low-budget adventure brimming with unexpected twists and turns, as well as a trio of intriguing characters brought to life with the first-rate performances of Thatcher, Duplass, and Pascal. I’ve enjoyed both Duplass and Pascal’s work for some time (here’s a friendly reminder that in the case of Pedro, Bloodsucking Bastards is a really fun modern take on vampires), but Thatcher absolutely steals the show in Prospect, as Cee becomes this proverbial force to be reckoned with, as the actress really rises to the occasion here (the final shot of Cee in the film just filled my heart with all sorts of emotions). Also, because I’m a fan of Empire, I was beyond thrilled to see Andre Royo (who plays the scene-stealing Thirsty on the FOX series) pop up in Prospect as well, as his brief appearance in the film is perfectly chilling.
I’d definitely recommend sci-fi fans out there to keep an eye out for Prospect, as it does a beautiful job of embracing the sense of wonder that you want in a science fiction movie, but also does a few things with its story that allows it to march to the beat of its own futuristic drum. I’m not quite sure what the release plans are for this one yet, but if you do get an opportunity to see Prospect on the big screen, I wholly recommend you take it, because Earl and Caldwell’s efforts are deserving of an in-cinema experience (the VFX and sound design are both stellar).
Movie Score: 4/5
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