“Things would have been very different if it weren’t for her”
Theodore Meridian (Michael Piccirilli) sees the future—a very specific future. If the person he locks eyes with is destined to die within 24-hours, he’ll catch a glimpse of their demise. This power has haunted him since childhood and only his Aunt Kay (Bryna Weiss), who raised him after his parents died, knows the effect it’s had. We assume Theodore dealt with it by diverting his eyes in public and desperately trying to forget what he saw because he willfully chose a profession with the potential to stop these visions once and for all. Now a geneticist doing his best to help bring life into the world rather than watch it extinguish, his search continues to find and eradicate this Prescient gene from his DNA.
Writer/director Hann-Shi Lem‘s film (co-written by John Hannon) proves a high-concept sci-fi thriller as we meet Theodore coping with his latest vision. It’s of a patient he has successfully artificially inseminated with her late-husband’s sperm to conceive identical twins. The news is happy with thoughts turning to what they can do to ensure the babies don’t meet an early demise like their father when his eyes focus and his words stop. There she is on a pharmacy floor with a bullet wound and blood seeping onto her dress. Theodore doesn’t know what to do. Life arrives only to be taken away in an instant, but he has been given this gift to stop fate. As anyone who enjoys this genre knows, though, fate will not be cheated.
By saving Helen (Nicolette Hart), Theodore condemns his girlfriend Anna (Pamelyn Chee) to die in her place. The how and why comes courtesy of carefully composed clues showing the possibility of jealousy on her part. Anna sees Helen speak with Theodore—a secret shared. She then hears his conversation on the phone with her the next morning in his kitchen; listening to him lie about it being his medical partner Walter (Anthony Bishop) and spying the note written with what look like rendezvous details. Helen stays home and Anna leaves, their souls traded in order to keep the fabric of time and space whole. So instead of sadness and regret flooding Theodore’s mind upon seeing flashing lights outside Parker Pharmacy, guilt and a broken heart consume him.
That’s about as far as anyone should go in revealing plot points to Prescient because Lem and Hannon infused their film with myriad twists and turns. Identities are fluid, scientific improbabilities made commonplace, and secrets revealed that get the blood boiling and guns loaded for posthumous revenge. Anna’s death opens a chasm in many people’s lives besides just Theodore’s. There’s her twin sister Emma, Emma’s abusive husband Karl (John Patrick Patti), his day-trading boss Mrs. Freeman (Priscilla Young), and the Westcott building’s janitor—yes, even the janitor is affected—Cooper (Greg Robbins). Each is introduced as a periphery player to Theodore’s genetic quest to map the human genome and find someone like him to match the premonition gene and remove it. All end up crucial to the tale.
This is both good and bad to the whole. On one hand it shows a level of meticulous care that everyone onscreen can somehow be involved in the central plot so integrally. But it also forces us to face the reality that coincidence rules their lives. To a point this is relevant in a sci-fi yarn hinging on fate because it intellectualizes coincidence into a form of destiny by some higher power. God is mentioned, but only as an antithesis to the work Theodore and Walter perform. To an extent Theodore becomes God with the saving of one woman for another having little to do with scientific accuracy. How he knew enough to alter the events does (his genes), but the specific results were out of his hands.
It can be tough to shallow the convenience of many actions taking place because of this unseen hand guiding them together. The most outlandish revelations are right out of a soapy melodrama too as the grittily severe drama of the beginning gradually erupts into an almost comical series of circumstances leading Theodore to believe he can set things right. The truth of the matter is, however, that he can’t. People must die, but letting those whose time isn’t up perish prematurely proves “right” has no place in his story. Instead only selfishness exists. Theodore is so desperate to rid himself of this curse and yet he uses it to his advantage once reality shows he may be able to work out a happy ending after all.
What we don’t see is the collateral damage left in the wake. This isn’t a slight on the film per se, but it’s something that kept nagging at the back of mind throughout because it was never touched upon. Prescient tries so hard to do the “right” thing that it forgets how much wrong is happening. I feel like a pitch-black conclusion would truly have made us understand the power Theodore wields and the consequences of altering the future. So, watching everything fall into place for him personally and professionally did become hard to chew for me. Maybe this tale never wanted to go that extra mile and instead sought only to entertain with effective conundrums and exciting surprises, but that doesn’t mean the bigger picture disappears.
The filmmakers excel at keeping the audience off balance enough to remain on this surface by seamlessly moving through time and replaying events already seen, though. It appears arbitrary at first, but to their credit I never found myself confused as to where I was within Theodore’s timeline. We often see results before cause, a maneuver that gets the mind racing to catch up and smiling after figuring out exactly how things will be different than fate foretells. This decision helps us focus on Theodore alone, imagining with him as he puts the pieces in place to come out on top. It keeps him permanently in view and therefore his evolution paramount to the world. Prescient is about one man surviving. He never wanted to be a hero.