'Anthem of a Teenage Prophet': Film Review

Too restrained for its own good.
1/11/2019

Cameron Monaghan of TV's 'Gotham' and 'Shameless' plays a high school student who foresees the death of his best friend in Robin Hays' teen drama.

The title of Robin Hays' debut feature feels misleading, since Anthem of a Teenage Prophet doesn't display any anthem-like qualities. Simmering and subdued, this '90s-set teen drama with supernatural elements features an intriguing premise but doesn't quite seem to know what to do with it. Such restraint is admirable in a genre not known for it, but it results in the film feeling more tepid than it should have been.

Cameron Monaghan, delivering a performance much different from his more explosive turn as the villain on TV's Gotham, plays the central role of Luke, who is a typical teenager, spending his free time skateboarding and toking with his friends who include his best buddy Stan (Alex MacNicoll), the handsome high school jock who's dating the beautiful Faith (Peyton List).

While hanging out with his friends one day, Luke impulsively blurts out that he's had a vision in which one of them gets killed in a vehicular accident. The premonition comes true the next day, with Stan getting run down by a truck. It results in Luke being treated like a freak by his classmates, dubbed "The Prophet of Death" and becoming a local media sensation. He can't even go to a convenience store without the clerk demanding of him, "Tell me my future."  

While that setup would seem to indicate the movie (based on a novel by Joanne Proulx) will be going in Steven King-like horror directions, it instead generally settles down into standard teen-drama tropes. Luke finds himself increasingly drawn to Faith, who seems to return his feelings, and attempts to deal with the problems of his misfit friend Fang (Grayson Gabriel, delivering an impressive performance). He also has another fateful premonition of an imminent death, which he tries but fails to prevent. Along the way, he receives emotional support from his loving mother (a terrific Juliette Lewis, making her character the sort of cool parent of which any teenager can only dream).

There's nothing inherently wrong with Anthem of a Teenage Prophet, although its subplot involving a police raid of gays at a local park fits in uneasily with its main storyline. But despite the sensitive performances by its mostly young ensemble, the film never achieves sufficient narrative momentum or force. The screenplay by Elisha Matic, Andy Matic and Joshua Close tamps down the emotion of the proceedings so rigorously that the heat of teenage angst barely registers as a low simmer, and tyro director Hays doesn't bring sufficient cinematic juice to even the most dramatic scenes. The filmmaker seems to rely too heavily on the well-curated assemblage of '90s-era pop tunes to provide atmosphere.

The underplaying Monaghan dials back his natural charisma here so effectively that you wish he would turn it back up a notch, although he's undeniably affecting as the troubled protagonist. And List, veteran of such Disney Channel series as Jessie and Bunk'd, is warmly appealing as the emotionally confused heroine. Their efforts almost, but not quite, lift the pic up to the level to which it aspires.

Production companies: Sepia Films, Hand Picked Films
Distributor: SP Releasing
Cast: Cameron Monaghan, Grayson Gabriel, Peyton List, Juliette Lewis, Alex MacNicoll
Director: Robin Hays
Screenwriters: Joshua Close, Andy Matic, Elisah Matic
Producers: Tina Pehme, Kim Roberts
Executive producers: Darren Benning, Jeff Elliott, Chad Moore, Jason Price, Michel Shane, Sharon Young
Director of photography: Todd M. Duyn
Editor: Austin Andrews
Composer: Andrew Harris
Costume designer: Liene Dobraja
Casting: Catharine Falcon, Bim Narine, Paul Weber

99 minutes