Sophie Thatcher and movie dad Jay Duplass, trying to strike it rich on an alien moon.

Prospect takes place not in our future, but in that of an alternate universe that has evolved under the same constraints or laws as ours. Mouselike creatures on a planet in this other universe became primates. That order branched into monkeys and apes. A line of apes became humans who culturally evolved an economic system that we on Earth call capitalism. And like the capitalism of earthlings, it's driven not by necessities but by luxuries. One such luxury in Prospect is a valuable root gem that grows on a moon that orbits around a planet on the solar system's perimeter.

Directed by Seattle-based filmmakers Zeek Earl and Christopher Caldwell, Prospect opens with two humans—a father, Damon (Jay Duplass), and his daughter, Cee (Sophie Thatcher)—traveling on a commercial freighter that, for a fee, drops prospectors onto that moon in a "sling-back maneuver." Once there, the father and daughter have a short amount of time to find the gems, return to their pod, launch, and catch the freighter before it departs to other parts of the solar system.

The moon looks like the Pacific Northwest. It's very green, but its thick forest is toxic. In the first part of the movie, we glimpse the green moon from the pod that the financially strapped father and his daughter are renting. These moments are utterly marvelous. The ship creaks—the technology was new a very long time ago—and the light from the alien sun is cold and distorted by dirt on the windows. If you are looking to strike it rich on this distant moon with this beat-up equipment, you must be desperate. And Damon is definitely that. He needs the money to settle huge debts he's accrued on another capitalist planet. To make matters worse, most of the root gems on the moon have been farmed already. Damon and his daughter must dig into places missed by amateur prospectors.

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Desperation, not greed, drives Damon to make a mistake that turns the course of the film, taking us out of the green wonderland and into a noir that has a darkly gothic conclusion.

Many have described Prospect as a "sci-fi western" because of its gold-rush parallels and wild frontier themes that are set amid an imagined world. But it's not really science fiction in the classical sense. Indeed, much of the technology of our time in our universe far surpasses what you find in Prospect. As for being a western, the main elements of that genre (town, sheriff, whorehouse, saloon) are absent. The prospectors are more like hippie campers in, say, Olympic National Park (where much of the film was shot) than gunslingers in frontier towns. It is for this reason that Prospect is a deeply Northwest film. We live on this strange moon.