Film review of the brilliant drama ‘Anthem of a Teenage Prophet’

Anthem tells the story of Luke (Cameron Monaghan) a teenager who foresees the death of his new best friend Stan (Alex MacNicoll), the most popular guy in school. When this premonition becomes reality, Luke must deal with the trials and tribulations of being dubbed “The Prophet of Death” and being titled a freak by the entire town. It doesn’t help that he’s fallen in love with Faith (Peyton List) who just happens to be Stan’s girl or that he’s on the outs with his childhood best friend Fang (Grayson Gabriel) or that the premonitions just keep coming – In a story that expertly navigates that often rocky, at times inspiring road to adulthood, Anthem authentically balances the teenage experience of confusion, anxiety and rage with those exceptional moments of clarity, self-discovery and human connection. Hormonal, funny, exhilarating and wise, Anthem slyly explores the need to belong, the isolation of youth and the powerful brew of fear truth and noise that plays inside us all.

Anthem of a Teenage Prophet is a powerful new drama from director Robin Hays, which has been adapted from the original novel Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet by Joanne Proulx. Focusing primarily on Cameron Monaghan as Luke, it is more than just a coming of age drama; dealing with his emotional journey as he tries to come to terms with the loss of his best friend, whose death he prophesied, reconnecting old friendships and falling in love.

As the central focus of the film Cameron Monaghan delivers an exceptionally versatile depth to his performance, bringing an emotional intensity to his character. There is a likeability, but he also displays a withdrawn and somewhat lost vulnerability, as the pressures of the unwanted premonitions begin to take their toll both physically and mentally. It is a believable and passionate  really begin to sympathise with his character as his insecurities and self-loathing begin to take over.

As much of the focus of the film is on Luke, it is the complex relationships and interactions with those around him which make the film work so well. The complicated relationship with Faith, works brilliantly because of their natural chemistry on screen, even though it is hinder with an awkwardness because of the situation. As Luke begins to fall in love with their natural connection, it remains an awkward proposition to get too close, knowing that she was ‘Stan’s girl’; as Fang later points out in the film.

Both Cameron and Peyton do work well together creating some of my favourite scenes in the film, as they try to deal with a multitude of emotion which they use partly as a way to grieve and move on. There are several scenes where the camera pull back from the scene and lets it plays out with just the emotions of the character on screen. Whether it be the joyful simplicity of the sparklers outside of the hotel room, or the comical timing of a dodgeball incident. The interactions occur naturally without feeling forced.

Another relationship which Luke deals with relates to his former best friend Fang, who over, time they seem to have grown apart. The performance of Grayson Gabriel is something which can be easily overlooked, with so many strong performances in the film and his own is very much understated. However, Grayson displays a much deeper struggle with his character, which is all highlighted from those around him, even if it is something Luke cannot see, as he tries to deal with his own issues.

Despite having a more supporting role as Luke’s mother, Juliet Lewis also delivers another impressive performance in the film. Her sentimentality and close kinship with Luke opens up a different side of his character, as she offers her own guidance and parenting to give him the support that he need. Normally with such a strong character and performance from Juliette Lewis, I would have liked to have seen more of her character. However, as with most of his interactions throughout the film, be it with neighbour or a truck driver which hitchhiking, she is used just enough to make an impact in the direction of the film.

The film itself is set in the early 90’s director Robin Hays manage to incorporate the stylings of the time, recreating a time capsule feel for the era. For the most part adopting a guerrilla style of filmmaking, which uses the hand-held instability of the camerawork to really draw you into the environment of the characters. It creates a raw almost documentary style at times, with the camera becoming ever more erratic during his premonitions or to reflect how he is affected physically when the events of the initial visions come to pass.

These act as a complete contrast to the films stunning open tracking shots, as it often follows Luke on his skateboard. Incorporating the surrounding environment and some of the colourful graffiti artwork on the buildings it creates a mesmerising effect, whilst also showing a tranquillity in the moment as Luke begins to lose himself in his music – momentarily isolated from the world.

Even the versatile soundtrack manages to reinforce the 90’s vibe with the hip hop soundtrack, which works in balance with the more subtle execution of the contrasting score. With so much enthesis of the film focused on the emotional performance of the cast, the score really plays an important role in depicting the emotions of the story and it remain attuned with the events throughout.

In addition to music, one of the ideas I really liked in the film was the use of an answer machine. We can hear the messages play as we follow the event on screen, which are cleverly used to convey elements of the story over a period of time like a montage. It is a simple idea, but it really works with the story and saves the time of trying to explain the events.  

Anthem of a Teenage Prophet is an intelligent thought-provoking drama, which despite its melancholy tone manages not to be lost in Luke’s self-loathing and teenage angst – thanks to the humour and relationships with those around him. It is an impressive first feature film for director Robin Hays and an excellent opportunity for Cameron Monaghan to further show his versatilities as an actor. Cameron already having previously proven himself as someone to watch in the future as Ian Gallagher in the TV series Shameless (2011-2018) and Jerome Valeska / Jeremiah Valeska in Gotham (2015-2019).

For some it may not concentrate as much on Luke’s abilities as people may expect, with the film focusing more on how the characters respond and deal with the situation. This for me however actually works in the film favour, as it makes the most of the performances from the exceptionally talented cast. Sometimes by stripping it back it can make for a more powerful film and Anthem of a Teenage Prophet is a brilliant example; if you can do it right, just how powerful and moving cinema really can be.

Anthem of a Teenage Prophet will be release in theatres and on-demand on January 11 2019, with a DVD release on February 5th.

Film Review - Anthem of a Teenage Prophet
Philip Rogers

Philip Rogers

Published in various websites, Philip is a reviewer who is best known for his interviews and media coverage of independent projects including; films, books, theatre and live events. Always on the lookout for something different to cover!