The Phoenix Project review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
In the same sense that punk kids replicate the gangster lifestyle of Scarface or Goodfellas without remembering the dark endings, The Phoenix Project features a bunch of starry-eyed young scientists who never grasped the dangers of mad science gone wrong. They don’t consider the end result of their experiments at finding a means of reviving the dead. They’ve become so bogged down in the technicalities of the project that they don’t consider the variables of the individual once they’ve been revived. It just seems rather strange that it never came up in the dozens of conversations between these four characters.
The Phoenix Project leaves most of these questions at the door as the grant-armed scientists lock themselves in a house to prove the theory of reanimation. With no fear of playing God, all of them become obsessed with finding the right math and right voltage. Their dialogue is completely surrounded around getting a dead mouse to move once more. To its credit, all the actors throw themselves into these roles with amazing attention to detail in their work. The manner in which they go about their experiment feels as more than just randomly spoken technobabble from actors pretending to grasp the role. They’re very convincing as reanimation-obsessed scientists more eager to discover a cure for death than anything else. Not much extra baggage is tacked on for dramatic effect.
But therein lies the crux of such a film more concerned with accuracy than drama. You can sense where all this is going more or less that there just doesn’t seem to be much to latch on to with these characters. Most of them remain fairly collected and understandably frustrated when test after test fails. There’s decent characterization in the small moments of video journals where the four bare just enough of their souls. And, naturally, it isn’t until the third act where the real motives bore their ugly head and the real experiment begins. Everything just proceeds according to plan for all its precise building.
Maybe I’m just too obsessed with movies, but I doubt that a single one of these guys hasn’t seen something along the lines of Frankenstein or Re-Animator. Or perhaps it’s a different era or dimension in that we never see the world outside the house they’ve shacked up for their experiment. We don’t know much about how the people of this world function except that they can’t animate the dead yet, college grants are still handed out and that pasta and chicken still exists. Keeping things claustrophobic and tightly shot within the house does keep the script focused on the goal of the project without any distractions. But it does seem rather unlikely that the group wouldn’t be getting letters of concern from the university or at least an angry phone call from the power company. Or has power consumption advanced to a point where any suburban home can easily generate enough power to revive organisms with the right equipment? This sure is one powerful bubble these people live in to have that much pull with such an iffy experiment of questionable results.
The Phoenix Project is a slow-burn that may be finely prepared, but isn’t so much entertaining as it is intricate. Writer/director Tyler Pavey should be commended for doing his homework with a bottle movie that could’ve been a ludicrous joke if he did otherwise. He makes sure all the moving parts are working correctly so that it’s not easy to laugh at a bunch of nerds making the same mistakes as Doctor Frankenstein. As a result, Pavey gives us a reason to care if a mouse twitches after death, but not much else for a story that looks impressive and never takes off.