Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Prometheus Project (USA, 2010)


By the time it hit the DVD store shelf, this film got re-titled to Frankenstein Syndrome we would've guessed because the mythological reference of the original title may have been considered too intellectual (and therefore less commercial) for the general public, much less the movie's intended audience, but it would seem that the big-budget mistake that is Prometheus (2012 / trailer) proves that supposition incorrect. In any event, the new title of course draws a more obvious reference to Mary Shelley's original novel Frankenstein, the inspirational source of this movie, but the original title is more on the spot — and, for that matter, still keeps a reference to the novel Frankenstein, which actually bears the subtitle The Modern Prometheus.
Prometheus, for those of you who — despite the release of Prometheus — are a bit shaky when it comes to the classical myths of yore, is the immortal Greek Titan that, in Greek mythology, not only created man from clay but also stole fire from the gods to give to man, thus facilitating the continual development of civilization and mankind. (As punishment, Zeus chained the immortal to a rock and sent an eagle each morning to eat his liver, which would then grow back overnight.) Throughout western civilization — the subtitle of Shelley's novel being a good example — the name Prometheus has come to refer to a person, particularly one of science, striving for new knowledge irrespective of the possible consequences. And in that sense, the "Prometheus Project" around which the events of this film unfold, is indeed justly named. 
For a B-grade horror film, The Prometheus Project tackles some pretty hefty questions regarding mankind's pursuit of knowledge, if only superficially. Between the scares and the occasional explosions of goo and violence, the viewer is posed a variety of questions regarding guilt and responsibility not to mention the moral limitations of the pursuit of knowledge and/or to what extent the ends justify the means. But director Sean Tretty, who also wrote the script, is less out to bludgeon his viewer with intellectual queries than to make a contemporary sci-fi horror flick that offers the option of intellectual contemplation with its visceral; thus, though the themes are forever present and continually poke their heads up throughout the movie, the film still manages to remain solidly embedded in horror instead of the didactic. 
The plot is simple: a rich but doomed-to-die man (familiar character actor Ed Lauter, who probably shot all his scenes in one day) is financing illegal stem cell research — the once titular "Prometheus Project" — in search of a panacea. The brilliant Dr. Elizabeth Barnes (scream queen Tiffany Shepis of Corpses [2004] and Dead Scared [2004]), driven by the deteriorating health of her mother (Kristina Wayborn) and corresponding costs of her treatment, joins the project. Initially ignorant of the inhumane, unscrupulous lows the project willingly accepts in the pursuit of its goal, by the time Barnes begins to question the morals and humanity of that which she is part of, she is much too deeply involved to get out — especially since the whole compound is guarded and kept under lock and key. A serum to reanimate cells that Barnes plays a key role in developing goes horribly wrong when tested on a suicide, but soon thereafter the murder of David (Scott Anthony Leet), one of the compound guards, offers the possibility of renewed testing. This time around, all goes well — at first...
In all truth, The Prometheus Project is an extremely flawed film, but for that it not only manages to capture the viewer's interest but also keeps it until the final frame. Technically, the sound is a fiasco, with voices and noises rising and falling irrespective of the events on screen — we, for one, decided to keep the remote in our hand so we could lower or raise the volume at a moment's notice, as needed (and it was needed a lot). For that, once Dr. Elizabeth Barnes reaches the complex, the film moves at a decent pace and remains interesting. Sean Tretty's camerawork and shot framing are effective; not only visually strong, they serve well to underscore and support the film's narrative progression and often add an interesting visual twist to the events unfolding. The film features a nicely maintained sense of increasing dread despite a major structural flaw in the script, and considering how two-dimensional most of the characters are the actors do a good job with what they are given.
In this regard, special praise must be given to Sean Tretty's wife and nominal lead figure of the movie, Tiffany Shepis: though terribly miscast as a brilliant stem cell scientist, she not only doesn't fall flat on her face but over the course of the movie even achieves great believability as a character, and continually shows a broad scale of credible emotions throughout the film. Going by her thespian feats in this movie, it really seems overdue that she finally be discovered by the mainstream business and be given a chance to do more than just the B and C films we love to see her in — assuming she even wants to move out of genre films. 
One last quibble is probably a matter of taste, but considering how important the religious aspect suddenly becomes at the end of the movie, it should have perhaps been given even more attention in the course of the film. Still, the final twist is oddly unnerving and closes the film well, even as it leaves so much unexplored that the film could easily have a sequel, if not possibly a mini-series. 
But for all the above pluses of The Prometheus Project, we have to admit that director Tretty shot himself in the leg when he wrote the script by framing the story in a flashback structure, which is probably the major flaw of the movie. While The Prometheus Project nevertheless does remain intriguing and also manage to build an increasing sense of dread as the tale strides towards the climactic scenes, one thing the film does not have at all is suspense. Tretty makes sure of that in the first scene with Dr. Elizabeth Barnes, when she's rolled out in a wheelchair looking like a refugee from Les yeux sans visage (1960 / French trailer): from scene one, we know that our nominal heroine is not only going to survive, but she is going to be crippled and facially disfigured — thus, everything leading up to those final events, while interesting and unsettling and dreadful, are in no way truly suspenseful or unexpected. What's odd is that there seems no real reason for Tretty to have chosen the flashback structure, as the film could just as easily been told chronologically — and thus had tenfold the tension and suspense it now possesses. 
In short: The Prometheus Project — or The Frankenstein Syndrome, as the case may be — is a structurally flawed but interesting and well-acted low budget horror film that offers its shocks with a decent amount of cerebral considerations. We enjoyed it for the minor film it is; you might, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's Tretta... Not Tretty

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