There’s something about low budget science fiction that sets it out almost as a genre of its own. I’m thinking of movies like Silent Running, Solaris, and Stepford Wives among others. Considering these were all films from the 1970s, I think that decade really perfected this said genre. However, with the advent in technology today, where low budget filmmaking is more accessible, I think we’re seeing a rise in this type of movie again. Conceding to it’s low budget, these type of films blend psychological thriller aspects with science fiction.
Prisoner X is the latest film from Russian writer/director Gaurav Seth (The Art of Dying). It follows the story of a CIA agent, Carmen, who is sent to a secret underground prison facility to interrogate a terrorist believed to have used actual time travel. The mystery unravels as Carmen falls deeper down the rabbit hole when her former partner Fischer is found dead and evidence of time travel becomes very real.
Prisoner X is more of a character study and a slow burn potboiler than an in-your-face sci-fi film. Although, and I’m not spoiling anything here, the time travel aspect of the movie is accepted pretty early on and that leads to a couple more “science fiction-y” set pieces.
Actress Michelle Nolden does a fine job as our lead, Carmen. Despite her digging further and further into our lead antagonist’s agenda, we’re never frustrated by her or question her decisions. A lot of times when you have a CIA lead in the movie, their bad decisions often inform the plot. Not here, the mystery unfolds before our eyes as it does hers.
Character actor Julian Richings also delivers a great performance as the director of the facility, Jefferson. Once again, the movie avoids the cliche and instead of him being an over bearing or villainous director, he comes off more as a boy scout and a leader. It helps that Richings is such a good actor, you can’t take your eyes off of him.
The real standout in the film comes from Romano Orzari who plays the time traveling terrorist suspect, Ramiro. He’s got a nice Hannibal Lector-like swagger to him. You never know what side he’s playing or if he’s really the villain or not. There’s some nice pathos to the character that happens to him around the middle of the film that I don’t want to spoil here. If you think the premise of a time traveling terrorist sounds ridiculous, this dude sells it. Never once did I stop believing the story whenover Orzari was on screen.
The movie features a relatively small cast since most of the film is set in the underground facility. It works for the movie because the movie is paced nicely, and the story really moves along. The set up of the movie is basically the duration of the movie. Carmen gets called into this facility to investigate if Ramiro is really a time traveling terrorist or not while also investigating the death of her former lover and partner Fischer who may have known the truth about Ramiro. It all comes together nicely before the film’s final (and effective) twist.
The film is mostly well shot. It does look a bit like a TV movie in some scenes, but its mostly clean and there’s a nice depth given to the underground facility. The other actors in the film do a serviceable job. The director does a nice job setting up early on that this is going to be a stylish thriller and I think he mostly delivers on that promise.
A couple of things that didn’t really work for the movie were the script and the score. The score was mostly forgettable and didn’t do much to ramp up the tension when it needed to. The script needed a little work. The premise is set up well, and I did think it was cool and different, but some scenes were written very cut and dry. Some of the CIA talk dips into cliche territory, and honestly, the movie is better than that. Some of the dialogue was right out of every made to TV crime thriller you’ve ever caught on basic cable.
The DVD itself features a featurette about the making of the film that runs about ten minutes long. If you enjoyed the film, it’s totally worth a look. The cast and crew looked like they were having a good time making the film, and it’s obvious they thought it was something special. The featurette is a mix of talking heads and BTS footage. It’s a breezy watch and worth checking out.
Overall, I did enjoy this time. While it didn’t deliver fully on it’s premise, the director kept the film looking stylish enough and the actors really brought it home. I would definitely recommend the film to fans of low budget sci-fi because the potboiler mystery is pretty cool. Not a bad way to spend 88 minutes if you’re into movies like this.
Prisoner X is available on Digital, VOD and DVD now from RLJ Entertainment. Check it out here.