The Protokon, reportedly made for a mere $10,000, could easily have crumbled under the limitations imposed by its budget. Science fiction often requires elaborate costumes and the construction of whole other worlds, neither of which come cheap. But director Anthony de Lioncourt has managed to transcend his fiscal restrictions and make a film that, at least visually, is impressively wrought.
He achieves this in a number of clever ways. The first is by shooting much of the film in close-up and in very tight spaces (de Lioncourt is also responsible for the cinematography). Most of the action takes place in narrow, enclosed areas – hallways, elevators, dimly lit offices – which eliminates the need for ornate set design. But more than just being a cost-saving maneuver, this lends the film qualities of tension and claustrophobia; minimalism, in this case, is an asset. The second technique – which is also The Protokon's strongest attribute – is de Lioncourt's expert use of light, shadow, and haze. The movie is shot in a grainy, washed-out style, meant to evoke the look and feel of the 1980s, and de Lioncourt uses this as a boon instead of a hurdle. He shrouds his characters in darkness and lights their faces – Jaiden Kaine's in particular – just enough to accentuate their sinister contours. Occasionally, to induce a sense of stylized gloom, he bathes them in smoke, taking a cue from Raging Bull, a film he has cited as an influence. De Lioncourt's eye for visual composition, equal parts symmetry, shadow, and neon illumination, is his greatest strength, and does more than anything else to establish The Protokon's eerie ambiance (the score, which de Lioncourt composed – are you sensing a trend here? – alternates between pulsating synthesizers and ambient drone, and contributes to the doomy atmospherics.)
Anthony de Lioncourt
Mark Mattson, Jaiden Kaine, Samantha Strelitz
31 October 2015
Josh's Grade: C
The rest of The Protokon fails to live up to the promise of its visual execution. The plot is baffling – James (an expressionless Mark Mattson) witnesses the murder of his fiancée Dawn (Samantha Strelitz) and, driven mad by grief and his desire for revenge, joins a shady organization known as the Order of the Circle, which is helmed by a sadistic despot, Elijah (Jaiden Kaine), bent on destroying humanity. It may have been easier to overlook the knotty details had it proceeded at a brisk clip, but The Protokon lumbers on for nearly two hours; the result is glacial and indulgent, a laborious exercise in the adage "style over substance." And the script – written by de Lioncourt, of course – is over-reliant on hollow ruminations and cryptic platitudes ("We will meet again at the end of eternity."). We're left puzzled and disinterested, without a clear sense of what's going on or why characters are doing whatever it is they're doing. The only real breath of fresh air is Jaiden Kaine, who packs his role as the Order's machinating leader with leering, icy intensity.
With its Technicolor villains, random acts of violence, and incessant philosophizing, it's clear that The Protokon is culling elements from formidable touchstones like A Clockwork Orange, Solaris, and Drive. But it feels more like a schlocky B-movie imitation than a compelling homage. Some of this is due to the budget – again, $10,000 is almost cripplingly low – but de Lioncourt clearly didn't let that deter him from making a visually striking film. Hopefully next time he'll put the same effort into the narrative.