Howdy y’all! McEric here with a fresh review for the Sci-Fi thriller PROJECT ITHACA from Saban Films, releasing on VOD and in select theaters June 7th, 2019. I had the opportunity to view the film and speak with its star, James Gallanders (THE SKULLS II, SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL) about his role in the film as conflicted military scientist John Brighton. Check out the trailer here:
The film begins with a fairly familiar concept: six strangers awaken bound in a room and must explore their environment and one another to discover how to escape. But this film takes that premise a bit further, as the “room” is one of many aboard an alien spacecraft. It’s a bit like EVENT HORIZON (1997) meets UNKNOWN (2006), with a smidgen of THE CELL (2000), though with significantly less Jennifer Lopez.
The film’s successes are found first in its production design, apparent almost immediately as the opening credits appear over stunningly detailed close-ups of the alien room’s interior, replete with craggy unearthly surfaces and plenty of dripping goo. From there we are treated to excellent performances from Gallanders and his co-stars, who are bound to the wall of the room by tentacles wrapped around their arms and a feeding-tube of sorts inserted in the back of their neck. Only the tube isn’t feeding them; it’s quite the opposite.
The craft appears to be fueling itself by siphoning the energy of its captives’ fears, and to that effect it cues traumatizing memories in the minds of its captives. The human fuel cells have been abducted from around the world, and our protagonists shortly discover, throughout time. It is quite possibly this ubiquitous state of being from which the film derives its name, like the oft-debated location and era of the island from Homer’s ODYSSEY. Or maybe it just sounds cool.
Without spoiling too much, PROJECT ITHACA finds its place in the Sci-Fi pantheon as a psychological thriller in the vein of FIRE IN THE SKY (1993), which it references, itself. Although some of the principles are thoroughly underdeveloped (Alex Woods’ Zack Chase exists for little else than to say “Fuck” and look filthy), the film rights itself with complex characters like Gallanders’ John Brighton, Daniel Fathers’ Perry Bulmer, and Konima Parkinson Jones’ Rhonda Woods. It’s a worthwhile mindtrip with a decent story and strong performances, led by Gallanders. Being Canadian, he was an absolute pleasure to talk to this afternoon via phone.
James Gallanders: Hi there, Eric.
Eric McClanahan: Hey James, how are you today?
JG: I’m pretty well, thanks. Yourself?
EM: I’m doing quite well as well. Thank you for asking.
EM: Wonderful! So, I got a chance to watch PROJECT ITHACA and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. First off, just give me your overview of the film; what’s your elevator pitch for PROJECT ITHACA?
JG: Well the elevator pitch is I guess it’s “Six strangers who wake up aboard an alien spaceship and they need to cope with their current situation to confront their past and somehow try to find a way home.”
EM: Excellent. I like that. Tell me about your character, John Brighton.
JG: My character John, without giving away too much, is very old-school. He’s a man of integrity and principle; he’s a decent man but he’s also a wounded man, a bit of tortured soul. He suffered a tremendous loss in the past that he carries a lot of guilt for but he’s developed a relationship with a young girl that he sort of sees himself as a father to and wants to do everything he can to protect her. I think essentially for me, for my character, this film is like a love story, between a father and a daughter. But he’s forced to put aside all that pain to face the task at hand which is to get the heck off that ship.
EM: Right. Your scenes with Sera both in the military base and also on the ship you guys did very well at creating that familial sense and paternal love… What was your work with Deragh Campbell (FAIL TO APPEAR, NEVER EAT ALONE) leading up to the filming process? Did you two meet, talk it out, have lunch; how did you two develop that bond for the screen?
JG: It was funny ‘cause it was the other actor, Taylor Thorne (THE SISTERHOOD), who plays young Sera, that I have the scenes with in the lab in the past. So Deragh and I did talk and we did chat over lunch one day when we were up there in Sudbury (Canada) to talk about everything but it was interesting because when she’s older Sera she’s not highly communicative. So for a lot of the film I wasn’t really able to get through to her; we had a lot of that backstory there but there wasn’t a lot of that back and forth until right near the end of the shoot. I think it might have even been the final day of shooting that she finally speaks and we have a scene in the cabin where we’re finally speaking. And of course near the end of the film when we do talk a little bit. So that was interesting because she had all that underneath and I was trying to pull that out of her but she was highly incommunicative, whereas with Taylor as young Sera we had more of an opportunity to explore the depths of that relationship while she was pretty cognizant and coherent.
EM: The idea of Rhonda’s [Konima Parkinson-Jones (TV’s “12 Monkeys”, Netflix’s “The Silence”)] safe place (The Cabin) being a central set piece of the film was rather brilliant on the part of the screenwriter and filmmakers. How did you play being in someone else’s memories?
JG: [laughs] That was tricky, man. I just found myself not trying to take in too much of that world and just trying to focus on the person that brought me there. Because it was my first opportunity to actually talk to Sera for the film I could finally stand there and TALK to her and I remember on that day having the urge to want to reach out and to touch her. Because I had this paternal feeling for her I knew I wanted to reach out and touch but because this is all in my mind I didn’t know if I could reach out and touch; there was this urge there but also the urgency of the situation to find out “What is it? What can we do to get the heck out of here?” That was unusual, for sure, because while I was in the cabin I wasn’t tethered to the ship I felt as though my character was still being held back, you know? In a metaphorical sense I still felt as though I was bound by my past, my duty, and still in a sense by the ship. So that I had that urge to reach out and touch her I had to focus on the task at hand which was “we have to get information and we have to get out of here”, ‘cause I didn’t know how long it was going to last.
EM: Yeah, there was definitely a sense of immediacy in that scene, like a “we don’t know how long this is going to last; we have to use this time wisely.” So, speaking of “bound”, you spend a good portion of the film in the room bound with the other five principles, very limiting to your body. I know that an actor uses every tool in their kit, so it had to be a lot of face and some neck; how much did you appreciate that challenge of acting with such limited mobility?
JG: That’s an excellent question. That’s something that I actually talked about right off the bat when I read the script; I thought “What a challenge for these six actors that are essentially bound to their chairs or seats and they’re looking at each other from across the room and you’ve got nowhere to hide. You can’t walk across the room, you can’t do a gesture with your hands or talk with your hands; it’s all about your inner life, your backstory, knowing what you want and knowing what you need and taking everything all in. I think that was the only way to keep the ball in the air, if you know what I mean. I thought “Geez, what a challenge!” so that was really part of the appeal for me.
EM: Excellent. There were some amazing performances throughout. Daniel Fathers (TV’s “Snatch”, THE VOID) I thought was a real standout. Truly amazing what he brought to the room with his dubious character. What were some of your favorite performances working on this film?
JG: Absolutely, I totally agree about Daniel; I thought he was fantastic. Another one of my favorite scenes was between [Caroline Raynaud’s (LA VIE EN ROSE)] Alex and Sera near the end when she says thanks for saving her life. I think it’s the first time Sera has ever had anyone express their gratitude to her; I thought that was a really powerful scene. I thought that Rhonda was really solid in her work as well. I thought that everybody really stepped up to the plate and did really well across the board. I loved the grandmother, too.
EM: Yeah! She was great.
JG: She was awesome.
EM: Chilling. So what was it that attracted you to this project? I’m sure you’re reading a lot of scripts; what about PROJECT ITHACA had you saying “Oh, okay; I got do this!”
JG: Well, if my agent had said “Okay, we got a lead in a sci-fi thriller that takes place in outer space and it involves alien abduction” and I’d have said “I’ve gotta read it, but I’m interested” but what really pulled me in was the depth of the character that Anthony [Artibello] had written ‘cause he’s such a tormented soul and the element of him being very old school and by the book while still a decent man. He’s very layered, he’s got all this that’s right beneath the surface yet he has to put that aside because he’s got a job to do. When I read that I was like “Man, I gotta play this role!” and I was so happy when I got the offer.
EM: Definitely a standout performance. Obviously, top-billing, and you earned it all the way. So PROJECT ITHACA is being released… this week? Next week?
JG: June 7th. So, ten days. It’s being released on iTunes and like ten places in the US and up here in Canada as well.
EM: Excellent. And what are you working on next?
JG: I’m waiting to hear on a couple of other things, and honestly just this morning I passed on, well it wasn’t an offer but they wanted to see me for a project that would’ve gone on for a little over a year; it was a really tough decision because I’m sort of holding out hope that we’re going to get to revisit these characters. It could be a bit of a long shot but I’m hoping that there could be a sequel to PROJECT ITHACA.
EM: I could see some potential for that. I mean, all of those characters have some pretty intense experiences and I think you could definitely revisit this story and these characters and have them continue to heal through this trauma. I think it’s a great idea.
JG: For sure, yeah, I think there’s some unfinished business.
EM: Well, James thank you so much for taking the time and speaking with me today. Is there anything you wanted our readers to know about?
JG: Nah, I don’t think so. I think that’s pretty much everything.
EM: Alright, well I really appreciate your time and I personally enjoyed it and I can’t wait to speak with you again when the sequel is being worked on.
JG: That’s great. I’m really glad to hear, Eric. It was my pleasure.
PROJECT ITHACA is directed by Nicholas Humphries (DEATH DO US PART, MERMAID’S SONG), written by Anthony Artibello and Kevin C. Bjerkness, and released by Saban Films to select theaters and VOD on June 7th, 2019.
Stay sane and I’ll see you at the movies!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-