From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Two Supernatural Beings begin to question their Godhood, when they encounter a human being, an ordinary woman with an uncanny essence, who doesn’t conform to their thousands of years of knowledge about humanity. They journey through her existence, as it relates to their desperate need to understand answers to questions, they never believed existed.”
I once heard it said: “It’s a wonderful life … until it isn’t.”
Therein lies the dilemma for the Greek gods Hermes (played by Dane Oliver) and Athena (Ciarra Carter) who are at the center of Exceptional Beings. As we learn, they’ve gone about the business of being immortal, only turning an eye onto those pesky lower life forms better known as human beings when perchance looking for perform a bit of trickery or a batch of foul play. But – lo and behold – what are the two to make of their experience as deities when an encounter with ‘mere mortal’ Mina Bihary (Rachel Thundat) suggests that life – as they believe they’ve known it – still has secrets they’ve yet to crack? Aren’t they gods? Don’t they know all there is to know? Or could it possibly be that even gods have gods they inevitably must answer to, or was there another form of existence – something on the evolutionary scale between gods and man – that’s been long overlooked?
Why, so very much of what elevates the ideas for Exceptional Beings – adapted for the screen and directed (with assistance) by Njedeh Anthony – is the existential struggle like none expected. Hermes, Athena, and Apollo are drawn into conflict again and again and again not because of the exercise of their traditional responsibilities with effect to man, the world, and the universe; instead, one of them has seen something that doesn’t balance with their conception of reality, and – sometimes together, sometimes apart – they’ll move Heaven, Hell, Earth, and anything in between to get the answers they believed to be part-and-parcel of their birthright.
Some might call Beings a bit too talky and light on action, but – so far as this reviewer is concerned – it’s in these on-and-off discussions of life that the film works best. Oliver and Carter make the best of their brother/sister act, balancing out their respective love, hate, and pure disdain for one another and everything around them in the pantheon. Oliver handles Hermes’ uptight prissiness with some accomplished contempt. He’s the quintessential eternal whose spent the better part of infinity glaring down his nose at all things inferior (which is, like, basically all). As Athena, Carter – in contrast – has allowed the heights she has soared to convince her that the world and its inhabitants are playthings waiting for her destructive tendencies to grind them into dust. You and I? Why, we’re toys in her games! This central relationship – the brotherly and sisterly back-and-forth – gives the entire production the undercurrent it needs to sustain itself, mostly because the rest of the affair is a bit … well … lifeless.
But … isn’t that always the case?
From what I can remember of my days studying Greek mythology in college (and, yes, I took a few courses), it was those nefarious philandering dealings with the immortals that were always more interesting than what the average man, woman, or child was up to in the tales. In fact, humans were little more than their curios to the exalted one – with a few exceptions – and I suspect that display of sheer galactic power is what has always drawn people to myths and continues to do so today. In that regard, Beings definitely is a story worthy of exploration. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I dare anyone who loves good dialogue between scene-chewing heavyweights to ignore the magnetism of Oliver, Carter, and Antonelli when director Anthony lets them strut their stuff. While it could’ve used a bit of spit polish here and there, these exchanges are still pretty darn good; and the onscreen talent seems like they were having a good time wearing the shoes of our masters.
So, yes, there’s a story to tell in this humble little universe, one of arrogant overlords both finding their way and cementing their place in a reality that’s long forgotten them. Starz Network’s American Gods adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name covered some of the same intellectual ground, but the program’s constantly changing creative crew hamstrung it from developing any real momentum. (Pfft. Go and read the Gaiman book anyway. It’s damn stellar, by the way.) And shows like Lucifer and Dominion have always been popular in exploring the drama between good and evil, especially when the very wicked gets brought to life by so many charming and attractive villains. Still, what emerges from Beings is a bit uneven. It never achieves a balance between the issues heavy or light, and it fails to give a compelling reason why I should care about its damsel-in-distress Mina. This could be because we, too, learn that not all is as it seems with the schoolteacher from California, and the reveal felt a bit too orchestrated.
Exceptional Beings (2023) was produced by The Gestalt Effect and FJ Morgan. According to a Google search, the film is presently available for streaming only on such platforms as Prime Video, Apple TV, or Vudu.
As for the technical specifications? The sights and sounds are very good. While I can’t prove it, I suspect that the feature was shot digitally with some special effects added in post-production. The quality of the effects is occasionally a bit spotty, harkening back to work done a few decades ago; as a result, they might get in the way of the experience for some viewers as they have more of a quaint foundation – and are mildly clunky – than anything else. I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention that there was a sequence or two wherein the sound levels were a bit off as one character suddenly came through much louder than the other. And a camera angle here and there? It could’ve been improved. Such can be the nature of low-budget and/or independent production, so consider yourself warned.
I’ve seen enough independent productions in my day to know that these are stories not only difficult to tell but also hard to score with audiences; and – while that might be the fate of 2023’s Exceptional Beings – I hope this Fantasy perseveres well enough to find a market. It’s occasionally prescient. It’s occasionally interesting. Its players hit their marks, and there’s a lean efficiency to a meal that has more meat on it than most might see at first glance. While I might nitpick things like pacing and point-of-view all day long, I can still see the potential in its ideas. Here’s hoping Anthony learns what he can from this first installment and puts them to great use in the promised follow-up (teased in the after credits scene).
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that writer/director Njedeh Anthony provided me with complimentary streaming access to Exceptional Beings (2023) in agreement for a review of the production. His contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.