Determining the value of a movie, whether as a critic or a more casual viewer, is very much a matter of expectations: Did this deliver on what was expected of it? The answer doesn't have to be a simple yes or no, and neither response is inherently right or wrong, but the question remains in play. The key difference for critics is that, in the interest of making a fair assessment, they must consider what expectations are reasonable — someone expressing their personal preference can say a musical would've been better without all the song-and-dance numbers, but in a review, that reads as a willful failure to engage. With that in mind, this review aims to sincerely consider: How does one reasonably engage with Prototype, director Jack Peter Mundy's lo-fi sci-fi horror about a cutting-edge domestic android that goes rogue? This line of questioning unfortunately proves unflattering, exposing a movie that offers so little to its audience that spending only the 80-ish minutes required to watch it would be paying too much.
In the near future of Prototype, New World Robotics has invented artificially intelligent androids to help with menial household tasks, with high-ranking employees testing the prototype versions of different models. In classic horror fashion, the opening sees senior researcher Olivia (Stephanie Lodge) killed by the earliest model, Zero, which the company (and the film) is happy to sweep under the rug with a couple lines of dialogue. Principal inventor Roger Marshall (James Robertson), meanwhile, has been trialing One (Luke Robinson) at home with his family. An aggressive man who abuses his wife, Shelly (Danielle Scott), Roger is apparently unhappy with the seemingly good-natured One, who has in particular bonded with the young daughter, Andy (Marshall K. Hawkes), and decides to test out the more advanced and (supposedly) loyal Two (Zoe Purdy). This android, however, is sinister from the get-go, and starts to emotionally manipulate each family member (and murder random bystanders) on the way to usurping Roger's control.
Mundy is obviously working with limited resources, with android costumes that could've featured in old Star Trek and Doctor Who episodes, and while that is a challenging hurdle for sci-fi stories, those two examples prove that production value is not the be-all-end-all of audience engagement. The script is perhaps most important here. A gripping story and strong characterization can overcome most obstacles, but Prototype has neither; plotlines are introduced only to go nowhere and character motivations are often either poorly defined or downright absurd, making it hard to be invested in any of the drama. There's obviously enormous thematic potential in the premise of live-in androids, and the film shows signs of wanting to explore it, but a lack of clarity in what One and Two can and cannot do makes it difficult to draw any conclusions — besides a vague endorsement of the power of love in the concluding moments.
Getting hung up on the movie's lack of big ideas would verge on the unreasonable, however, and Prototype could've had all the aforementioned flaws forgiven by just being fun. This is, after all, a sci-fi horror, and horror fans are willing to forgive a great deal if there's creativity where it counts. But, outside of the occasional choice of camera placement, the movie struggles to be interesting. The story never builds any tension or makes any real attempt at surprise. The kill scenes are either uninspired or poorly executed (pun intended), and the humor just doesn't land. More out-there performance choices, whether knowingly so or not, could have provided some level of so-bad-it's-good enjoyment, but the movie seems intent on playing the story straight in a way it can't sustain. One, for example, is very earnestly positioned as a sympathetic character, despite the fact that the way Robinson's eyes sit in the costume make him resemble the masked killer from Hush. Acknowledging this fact and working with it, instead of trying to ignore and overcome it, could have pushed the film in a more interesting, entertaining direction.
As it stands, Mundy's earnest but by-the-numbers approach to already lackluster material leaves the movie devoid of any sign of passion or creative spark. Filmmaking is a challenging endeavor that won't always result in a successful final product, but even movies that don't work show flashes of why a group of people would put in all that effort to make it in the first place. Those moments are at least something for a viewer to hold onto, and enough for many to justify having sat through to the end credits. Here, however, there is little room for audiences to enjoy their time watching Prototype, even when entering with the most reasonable of expectations.
Prototype becomes available on digital Tuesday, April 5. The film is 88 minutes long and is currently unrated.
- Prototype (2022)Release date: Apr 05, 2022