Exceptional Beings (2023) Movie Review: There are numerous projects on godly characters, and of course, many of them do work. Neil Gaiman is one of the most prominent authors who come to mind when someone mentions godly fantasy projects. His “Good Omens,” “American Gods,” and also “The Sandman” are some of the creations people will remember for years to come (to some extent, their adaptations, too, I hope). But here’s a writer who decides to write a prequel to his novel and is so passionate about the project that he turns it into a movie instead. The writer is Njedeh Anthony, and “Exceptional Beings” (2023) is a movie he made as a prequel to his novel “Godhood.” The concept seems ambitious enough; only the entire project feels flat and comes across as caricaturish.
The film begins with a narration, and the voiceover feels forced. Right from the start, if a voiceover narration puts you off, you know the journey will not be pleasant. The voiceover explains how God’s children want the light to shine upon them. It’s followed by a rigorous banter about light and darkness with snippets of some poorly edited sequences. The whole narration part feels like watching a recap from a television series. The sequence doesn’t engage; it feels very off-putting, given that the characters aren’t adequately introduced. Still, it feels like the director duo Njedeh Anthony and Christian Kazadi wanted the audiences to catch up with the characters instantly.
The abysmal narration sequence does not last long, which is a relief. The story quickly establishes Athena (played by Ciarra Carter), whose first reaction to anything is violence. She also despises humanity, and there’s a certain amount of hatred in her against the elder Gods’ love for humanity. Her views and temper are contrasted by Hermes (played by Dane Oliver), who seems to observe people before deciding to move forward with his actions. Things take a turn for them both as they witness something unexpected. A woman named Mina (played by Rachel Thundat) can see them, even though most Gods like to remain invisible and do not want to be seen. Hermes and Athena cannot understand the power she holds, feeling insecure, and as they go deeper into her past, they begin to question their own Godhood.
Funnily enough, the concept was brave and novel, but what hampers it is the execution. The film is primarily dialogue-driven, but things happen so fast, and information comes in in a galloping manner that it all becomes too much at times. The movie was made on a minuscule budget, which shows with the shoddy VFX and poor editing. Some moments in the film highlight its philosophical side, and even though they are short-lived, they are the only things one can take away from this movie.
The conversation of Athena with Methuselah and Apollo was great to listen to. It was, for once, refreshing to see the effort to pull off a contrasting view of Gods with their different approach to searching for answers. However, what stopped the film from becoming a fantasy saga is the budget it was approached with, the visuals lack any nuance, and Eric Roberts’ cameo as Poseidon does not come off as effective just because of how ridiculous his lair looks. Kazadi and Anthony launch some fascinating conversations on the self-doubt of the Gods as they begin to question if humans have outgrown them and if the universe has a place for them anymore.
Despite its numerous shortcomings, the film does deliver in terms of performances, well, some of them. Dane Oliver is a pleasure to watch as Hermes, who is fascinated but disinterested in his discoveries, while Ciarra Carter is believable as Athena. The perfect standout from the cast is Victoria Antonelli as Apollo, the character of which is a man, played by a woman, who switches voices depending on his mood. While this was an interesting take, one can wonder if it was really needed. Rachel Thundat as Mina felt stiff, and some dialogues between her and the Gods do make one wonder how the actors kept a straight face while saying them. Overall, if not for the performances, this passionate high school project-ish film could have gone down the gutter.
Writer/director Njedeh Anthony has a distinct voice for sure, and he does like to posit that Greek Gods exist in our world, but it is not clear if he likes them enough to make a movie on them or hates them to execute the film so poorly. If the prequel were a book, it would have looked better because the philosophical side of Exceptional Beings does work at times, but it takes itself too seriously, and because of that, the audience gives up long before the movie reaches that point. (Will they stay for the post-credits? Who knows?)