Describing his attempt to reanimate a dead animal, one of the young scientists in The Phoenix Project says that he intends to give it “neurological jump start.” Such a condition is unlikely to afflict viewers of Tyler Graham Pavey‘s microbudgeted debut feature which, while it earns points for its thoughtful, non-exploitative approach to its subject, is neither brainy enough to attract sci-fi aficionados nor fast-paced enough to please horror fans. This modern-day take on Frankenstein is unlikely to make much of an impact upon its limited theatrical release and VOD exposure.
Confined to a single setting, the film depicts the titular efforts of four scientists to bring life to inanimate creatures, starting with insects, moving on to small animals like rabbits and mice, and eventually hoping to expand the idea to humans. They’re fueled by grant money guaranteeing them five attempts, which inevitably start out in failure.
Featuring endless scenes of the budding Victor Frankensteins testifying about their efforts directly to the camera, the film is talky and claustrophobic, gradually revealing the nature of the characters and their hidden motivations, which extend beyond mere scientific discovery.
It’s an intriguing concept that might have worked reasonably well as a stage play, but on film the results are merely static, with the writer-director lacking the cinematic chops to bring sufficient tension to the proceedings. The actors — Corey Rieger, Orson Ossman, Andrew Simpson and David Pesta, making up the entire cast — are equally ineffective when it comes to conveying their characters’ complexities.
As is so often the case with indie films these days, the backstory of its making is more dramatic than the final product itself. Produced by recent film-school graduates for less than $60,000, some of it garnered through crowdfunding, it has been years in the making, and was clearly a labor of love for all concerned. But despite its ambition and laudable intentions, The Phoenix Project fails to come to life.
Production: The Ironwood Gang
Cast: Corey Rieger, Andrew Simpson, David Pesta, Orson Ossman
Director/screenwriter: Tyler Graham Pavey
Produces: Mike Mo, Tyler Graham Pavey, Orson Ossman
Executive producer: Nikhil Jassawalla
Director of photography: Alan Dean
Production designer: Bud Bennett
Editor: Gray Clevenger
Composer: Henry Allen
No rating, 92 min.