Imagine if you will “Groundhog Day” crossed with Greek mythology set in a modern, urban wasteland. This is precisely the setup for the stunning short film, “The Promethean”. Written and directed with skill and grace by D. Kohl Glass, “The Promethean” is a contemporary retelling of the story of Prometheus. For those of us a little rusty on our mythology, the film’s prologue informs us that the Titan Prometheus, whose name means “foresight”, was the one who stole fire from the gods and bestowed it upon mankind, thus saving it from “certain doom”. Seemingly in the name of “justice”, Zeus punished Prometheus for this affront by having him eternally chained to a mountain, where a giant eagle would descend each and every day to rip out his liver (nice guy, this Zeus). At the start of each new day, Prometheus’s liver would be restored and the cycle would continue without end. Yet Zeus had an ulterior motive for dishing out this sentence: to eliminate the one who held the secret of his destruction. “The Promethean” is a slick update of this ancient myth that, at a mere 13 minutes, is the perfect length. Glass is apparently keen enough to know that without Bill Murray, a concept as heavy as this one is tough to sustain for long.
In this version of the myth, the “Promethean” of the title refers to a battle-hardened soul named Forsyth (get it). Like the mythological Prometheus, Forsyth (solidly portrayed by Chris Kendrick) has been sentenced to an endless loop of death and resurrection by the nefarious “Z” (Dennis Kostecki). Everyday at precisely 11:47AM, a posse of seriously menacing men in Greek drama masks (with names like Kratos, Bai, and Hephaestus, I’m assuming these guys are the other Titans) carry out this “righteous” sentence by putting a bullet in Forsyth’s head and tossing his body into a dumpster. And every morning, without fail, Forsyth wakes up to a new day of gray and dread and inevitable death, all in atonement for his epic act of love for man. Forsyth passively accepts his daily fate until one day when he finally sneaks away to consult with an enigmatic woman named Io (Diane Rane). Io urges him to simply run away, which he does, though without success. Yet with the seeds of defiance firmly taking root, Forsyth becomes bolder and bolder and eventually hatches a plot to destroy his captors and gain his freedom.
On almost every level, “The Promethean” is an accomplished effort. Director Glass constructs a vivid atmosphere of urban decay and existential despair that is at once very modern and yet impossibly ancient. The exquisitely haunting score by Angus McKay sounds like something off the last Godspeed You Black Emperor! record (or any GYBE! record for that matter). Its chilling majesty perfectly suits the film’s themes of enduring tragedy and ultimate redemption. The high concept combined with the short running time leave little room for any real acting, though the actors uniformly look their parts at least. As the Christ figure (and Prometheus stand-in) Forsyth, Chris Kendrick is particularly arresting as a tortured soul with tortured eyes, bearing the improbable weight of eternal atonement on his shoulders. Likewise, with only minimal dialogue and screen-time, Dennis Kostecki nails the role of a powerful man consumed with fear. As for the masked titans, well, they definitely worked for me. I don’t know, chalk it up to Michael Myers, but cinematic baddies wearing masks have always freaked me out. Precious few villains these days, including the tricked-out, Freddy-fighting Jason, have slithered under my skin as much as these guys did.
Without at least minimal knowledge of the Promethean myth, I imagine “The Promethean” may leave some viewers feeling a bit in the dark. Beyond the prologue, the screenplay wastes little time with exposition, a fact I find entirely refreshing. When a certain mood is this richly sustained and yet never static, I don’t necessarily care about the whys and the hows. It may require some reading up, but “The Promethean” is nifty little film worth checking out.
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