Higher Power: The VFX-rich sci-fi thriller that was made on a $500,000 budget

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Mar 19, 2018, 4:25 PM EDT

CGI explosions that mushroom purple umbrellas across the night sky. A thrilling set piece that follows a commercial plane crash-landing in the city streets. A holographic titan who stalks among equally-sized skyscrapers…these are not the visual hallmarks of a movie that took only half a million dollars to make.

Yet those visual feasts, and more, are exactly what Higher Power, an effects-heavy sci-fi thriller from first-time director Matthew Charles Santoro, promises to unleash when it hits theaters and streaming services this May.

A glimpse at the just-revealed official trailer makes you wonder how a movie that runs head-first toward this many effects was put together on a reported $500,000 budget. The secret may lie in Santoro’s professional background, as well as the long, slow process of crafting a film as a passion project instead of a deadline-encumbered studio order.

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According to Screen Rant, Santoro’s a VFX artist whose career highlights include work on 300, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Higher Power took him years to make, and the VFX were largely done by Santoro himself — as was the original script.

What’s it about? An existential threat that only one reluctant man, coming to terms with superpowers others would exploit, can stop. A mysteriously-teased release of a massive gamma energy burst promises to wipe out humankind unless the movie's protagonist, Joseph Steadman (played by Super 8’s Ron Eldard), follows the instructions of an enigmatic figurehead who’s introduced (or perhaps merely tapped into) Joseph’s ability to wield his newly-discovered powers. 

The catch, though, is that Steadman’s power comes on stronger the angrier he gets, and his aloof, watchful manipulator — played by 24’s Colm Feore — appears to be doing everything he can to ensure the fury meter goes through the roof. If Steadman becomes public enemy number one in the process, hey — that’s just collateral damage. And the bad guy has more than enough leverage: Joseph either must execute the plan, or watch his daughter Zoe (Jordan Hinson) die.

Take a trip through the trailer and see if you can spot a low-fi indie flick anywhere within. While no one’s going to confuse Higher Power with a $300 million tentpole, you’d still be hard pressed to spot any roughly-cut corners that would out the film as a feature that costs less than a 600 square-foot New York condo.

Higher Power hits select theaters, as well as on-demand, Amazon Video, and iTunes, on May 11.