Young children with supernatural abilities that allow them to move both metaphorical and literal mountains have an entire sub-genre in Hollywood, going as far back as Haley Joel Osment’s character claiming, “I see dead people.” In more recent times, Professor X of the mutant school harnessed the power of the mutant kids who had similar powers, while his own powers were those of the mind. Thus, abilities that allow a person to move objects, read thoughts, and perform astral projections aren’t a new concept in Hollywood, so you’d think Meko Winbush would bring a movie that can keep pace with its predecessors. Instead, her 2023 supernatural thriller Gray Matter falls embarrassingly short of the mark, and the single biggest culprit behind the disaster is the script. Starting out strong on a serious note, the movie quickly begins stumbling and fumbling before falling flat at a predictable finish. Honestly, by the time you’re halfway through the film, you could predict the ending the movie is going for, and you wouldn’t be wrong. If you haven’t seen the movie, read on through this review to decide whether it’s something you’d like to spend 90 minutes of your life on or if you’d be better off skipping it.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Gray Matter’?
Fifteen years ago, Ayla was setting explosives on a building as her friend pleaded with her to stop, but before they could argue, the police showed up, and they had to run. Soon, the cornered Ayla was ordered to stop resisting and come with the cops, but she quickly surprised them with her psychic skills. Then, for what seemed rather unnecessary reasons, she used her telekinetic powers to kill both cops and did the same to murder her friend. She was a psionic, someone who could achieve great feats using their mind.
In the present, Ayla keeps her 16-year-old daughter Aurora secluded from the public eye, homeschooling her, and is very strict about her daughter ‘Ro’ not leaving the house. Also, the mother-daughter duo keeps moving across the country at regular intervals, leading to Aurora never having a proper social life. There’s a reason behind Ayla’s taking such extensive measures, but unfortunately, the movie doesn’t make it very clear why she couldn’t just do the obvious: tell her child. Perhaps among the oldest tropes in Hollywood movies, keeping a secret from a loved one to protect them is up there, right alongside Mexican standoffs in spaghetti Westerns. Of course, Ayla doesn’t tell her daughter the reason she needs to maintain such suffocating secrecy about everything concerning her past as well as the movements of Aurora. However, had Meko Winbush not fallen prey to this age-old trope, the movie would have been over before it hit the 60-minute mark.
Aurora has only a handful of means to entertain herself, including a sitcom with a laugh track that she loves watching at times when she’s not training her psionic powers with her mom. Yes, Aurora has inherited the powers that belonged to her mother, and she, too, is psionic, although she’s almost laughably weak and ineffective when it comes to using her powers. But then again, the girl hasn’t had any motivation to put her brain to work, and neither has there been any inspiration to do so. All she gets is her mother asking her to move things from point A to point B without ever explaining what the big threat is that Ayla is trying to protect her from.
The only saving grace for Aurora has been meeting with a boy of her age named Isaiah, and it blooms into that same old teenage love that visits everyone at 16. However, Ayla has an issue even with her daughter trying to have an iota of normalcy in this prison of a life that her mother has organized for her. The mother and daughter have a big fight, and the next evening, ‘Ro’ sneaks out to meet Isaiah and his friends on a basketball court. However, not having mixed with that many people at once, all their thoughts start affecting her severely, and she ends up accidentally killing Isaiah. Absolute horror and sheer panic fill Aurora upon her realizing her actions, and she begins screaming. When she opens her eyes, she’s inside a room, and a gentle-looking man offers her fresh clothes and asks her to clean up.
The next day, he tells her that this is a school where there are many psionics like Aurora, and he hopes to train her so that she can learn to control her power. Meanwhile, her mother, Ayla, is freaking out with worry as her daughter has gone missing, and she’s not been able to contact her telepathically like she used to. However, Aurora quickly begins to realize that her kind benefactor isn’t as nice as he seems to be, and he does have a darker intention, but we all saw that coming, didn’t we? Why else would a strange man show up and transport a girl with such awesome powers to a facility and try to keep her hidden instead of reporting her to the authorities? So, what secrets does this mysterious man hide in this facility, and what is his real purpose in bringing Aurora here? Can the protagonist finally harness her powers to escape from this new prison, and will Ayla be able to save her daughter in time? You can check out the movie to find answers to these questions, but be wary that you might feel a tad disappointed afterward.
The script blows, to put it mildly. The makers really put in the least amount of time while coming up with the plot, and it shows because of how flimsy the story is. No mother intentionally mistreats her daughter just to keep her from knowing a secret, and even if there’s a secret that needs to be kept, there are better ways to deal with that. Instead, Ayla chooses to make Aurora her enemy, which is why she chooses to hide things from her mother instead of being frank about them. In recent times, we’ve seen a parent-daughter bond that was so emotionally touching that many of us have held on to that scene for months after the show was over. I’m talking about the breakfast scene featuring Joel and Sarah in HBO’s The Last Of Us Season 1. That’s a father having breakfast with her daughter, and this movie features a mother and her child doing the same; the only difference is that you don’t connect with the latter.
Gray Matter is like the countless other independent flicks that come and go, and most of us don’t even hear about them because that’s how little impact movies like these have. They have an interesting plot, true, but they fail to go anywhere with it and end up making a huge mess of the plot and having to scramble towards the climax, much like Winbush’s Gray Matter. Perhaps the only saving grace in the movie is the character of Aurora, played by Mia Isaac, who tries her best to work with the awful script, and if there’s one thing you might end up appreciating in this disaster, it’s how hard this young lady tries to connect with the audience with her work.