Director Meko Winbush’s debut feature film comes in the form of the sci-fi thriller Gray Matter. Interestingly, the film debuted on streaming giant Max on the same day as the docuseries Project Greenlight, which shows us the production of this film from start to finish. It is a product of the show that allows budding directors to create a film with the help of mentors and everything else they need. This year, it reboots with the likes of producer Issa Rae alongside Kumail Nanjiani and Gina Prince-Bythewood. While the show may be something that piques interest because of the premise and the nature of reality TV, the movie is rather lackluster and has nothing new to offer its audience. In a time when the sci-fi genre has grown tremendously, there’s really nothing original about Gray Matter. The film follows a young girl named Aurora who dreams of normalcy because she has abilities that label her a “psionic,” leading her mother to keep her away from the outside world. Aurora is a typical teenager with an unused social battery, so she decides to step out of her mother’s safe bubble and do something rebellious.
Aurora, played by Mia Isaac, might well be the highlight of this otherwise drab film. After seeing her last in Not Okay, it is great to see how diverse her acting range is. As she shoulders the whole film, it is easy to see how captivating she is on the screen. Unfortunately, her amazing skills are let down by this unmemorable film. Aurora is a character that lacks depth. It’s a simple enough story: Aurora’s mother wants to keep her safe, so she sets boundaries that are too high and suffocate the poor girl, who needs to meet people as a teenager. Protection equals oppression, of course, and Ayla, Aurora’s mother, is one to follow. Aurora finds herself sneaking out at night to meet a boy in the neighborhood. He’s kind to her, and she feels as normal as the characters in the soap that she watches every day. Aurora’s abilities include but are not limited to, telepathy, telekinesis, memory searching (I don’t even know what to call this), and so much more she doesn’t even know. Aurora doesn’t know the reasoning behind her mother’s overly protective behavior. She just knows that she needs to move every few months to different places and that they’re hiding from someone. Every day, Ayla makes Aurora practice her abilities to try and make her stronger.
Fifteen years earlier, we saw that Ayla, too, had these skills. She’s much more powerful than her daughter, and she hopes that her daughter will soon reach the level she’s at. We are led to believe that Ayla may have done something to protect Aurora way back when, but we don’t know what or why. But all Aurora knows is that the skills they have don’t just make them different; they also make them dangerous to the outside world. So, the skill that Ayla desperately wants Aurora to learn is how to control her abilities. Unfortunately, because Aurora feels so smothered, she steps out of the house and meets more people. When she starts hearing their thoughts, she is unable to handle the mess in her mind. Aurora begins to panic, and their thoughts get more negative, leading to Aurora having a full panic attack and accidentally killing her friend Isaiah. While he was her only friend, he was also very kind to her, and he trusted that his friends would be too. Instead, they ended up having negative thoughts about her, making her realize her mother may have been right. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that, and because she needs help, she calls out to her mother and Isaiah’s friends, asking them to help her.
This leads to Aurora being found by a strange man named Derek, who teleports her from the playground she was at to a sort of facility for “psionics.” He’s all nice and jolly at first, but Aurora knows not to let go of herself through her mother’s training. She knows how to manipulate her memories and forget important details when people such as Derek come to find her. But, at last, he’s too strong for her, and Derek puts Aurora in a vegetative state, living in a dream that is the ideal life she wishes for (feeling a little bit like Don’t Worry, Darling right now). Aurora’s only goal is to hide her mother from Derek, and she does that until her mother communicates with her in her head and tells her it’s okay to tell Derek the truth.
While Ayla is able to get Aurora out of the facility safely, Aurora herself decides to end things with Derek once and for all so they don’t have to keep running anymore. All this time, Aurora has been worried that her mother thinks she’s weak, but in fact, she just wants her to be in control so things don’t mess up. Aurora only needed honesty from her mother so she could understand her. Hiding the truth is never helpful, and so when Aurora learned that Derek killed a bunch of people and blamed it on her mother, she had to set things straight. When Aurora realizes there’s nothing tethering her ultimate power, especially not the thought that her mother thinks she’s weak, she’s able to gain her full strength. Even able to teleport. Ultimately, to save all the psionics, Aurora takes a risk and brings Derek out on the field. With Ayla by her side, not disappointed in her, Aurora kills Derek instantly.
The facility was made by regular humans, with Derek in charge, so that he could keep psionics “in check” and make sure their dangerous abilities don’t get misused in the world. But Derek became somewhat of a tyrant and decided everyone except himself was dangerous, leaving Ayla no choice but to run away. Finally, Aurora and Ayla decide to take over the facility and free the other psionics so they can live harmoniously with the rest of the world. With the proper training and guidance from her and her mother, everything would work out for Aurora.
Savior Or Destroyer?
We can imagine that Aurora is trying to do good by helping the psionics come out of their cage, but she can also become just as bad as Derek with her powerful abilities. As we’ve seen many times before, great power can lead to grave destruction too and considering she’s a reckless teenager, it’s possible that’s how things will turn out. Similar to Magneto in the X-Men who hopes to help the mutants but ends up endangering everyone around (sounds rather familiar). Of course, with the help of Ayla, this could be avoided, but if there were to be an improved second part, it could be something along these lines?