Being a teenager is one of the most important periods in the development of any human being. It is the first time you actually start to learn how to live, interact with others, and learn about the world in general. Of course, for some, this period is often harder than for others, but the universal truth is that there will be a series of changes that will mark the rest of our lives during this period. Gray Matter is a new YA sci-fi film on Max that takes inspiration from the always influential X-Men guidebook to create another coming-of-age tale that, while superpowered, feels too familiar for its own good.
Gray Matter is a film directed by Meko Winbush and written by Philip Gelatt. The film stars Jessica Frances Duke, Mia Issac, and Garret Dillahunt. The film tells the story of Aurora, a young girl living with her mother, Ayla. The couple constantly moves around from town to town, creating tension between them, as Aurora wants to make friends and stay in just one place.
At the same time, her mother is constantly afraid of being captured by a shadow organization that she says is looking for them. With good reason, Ayla and Aurora are Psionic, meaning they have mental superpowers like telekinesis, telepathy, and many more.
Gray Matter is a very interesting piece of filmmaking, not because of the film itself but because of the context in which it was made. You see, Gray Matter is the feature-length debut of its director, Meko Winbush, and the production of the film can be tracked from behind the scenes because it is one of the projects selected to be produced by The Project Greenlight show, which is also available on Max, and it is just about to release its new season, which is mostly a reboot of the entire project. The reboot places Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani, and Gina Prince-Bythewood as the new hosts this time.
The Project Greenlight films have not met the most positive reaction, and it seems like Gray Matter won’t break the curse. While it is clear that there is potential when watching the film, it is also incredibly strange to see that this story managed to be approved for shooting in the state that it was.
It is really hard to say until we see the entirety of the Project Greenlight episodes documenting the making of Gray Matter, but the final result leaves a lot to be desired. It really feels like the film from a first-time director, so it is to be expected that this is what we get.
Most first-time directors don’t have a group of industry veterans checking on the project, though. So, the excuses start disappearing bit by bit. Meko Winbush might receive most of the fallout from the final result, but at least they are trying to do something with the visuals.
You can feel that there is an effort to make scenes look interesting even when the resources, including time and money, don’t seem to be the most abundant. However, the script and the story’s structure bring down this entire production.
The script written by Philip Gelatt feels unfinished. The first act tries to create some sort of mystery by starting In Medias Res, to a moment we come back to later, but why was this moment so special that it was chosen as the start of the film?
We might never know. It feels like the story is using the In Medias Res resource just to use it, and it feels sloppy and amateurish. The same goes for the rest of the film, which stops after the first act and never picks up again. We won’t be giving any spoilers, but the film’s last act feels rushed and confusing.
You can feel like the movie is trying to create this big climax, but it doesn’t have the necessary means to do so, so the attempt falls flat. It seems no one had enough time to do a proper job, and the film’s shape suffered for it.
I’m sure that most of the talent involved here can do a better job working under better conditions. Guerilla-style filmmaking exists, and it is quite effective sometimes, but the story needs to be locked down accordingly to the resources available. Gray Matter tried to do too much with too little.
If there is something really good about the film, it is the performances of its three main characters. Dukes really comes off as a great tortured character at the start of the film, and she feels believable in her paranoia. However, her character fades quickly after that in the story, which is a shame.
She has a couple of moments later, but they don’t feel as impactful as they should. On the other hand, Mia Isaac really shines in her role as a protagonist, and you can see that she has a bright future as a performer. She is really the best of the bunch.
It is always nice to see Dillahunt in any role, though. Dillahunt is one of those working actors who has appeared basically everywhere. He might not be a star, but you can trust that he will always be solid in whatever role he is placed in.
Here, he has the chance to be the villain, and you can see he is having fun chewing the scenery. His performance certainly elevates the mood of the piece to a new level. The script stops his character from being the absolute menace he is supposed to be, which is a shame.
Gray Matter is watchable, and it might even entertain you for the entirety of its running time. However, it falls into some really big pitfalls and leaves Project Greenlight open to criticism, as it keeps proving that it might not be the best way to make a movie.
If the time comes when we finally get a really solid movie from the Project, then we might say otherwise, but this is the fifth film that falls flat after being made under that microscope, and it maintains the curse alive and well. Let’s hope everyone involved can have better luck getting their next projects in line.