Producers: Jeanette Volturno, Yolanda T. Cochran and Jessica Malanaphy   Director: Meko Winbush   Screenplay: Phil Gelatt   Cast: Mia Isaac, Jessica Frances Dukes, Andrew Liner, Garrett Dillahunt, Isabella Ferreira, Earl Walker, Kristian Flores, Allison Ye, Chad Doreck, Erik Betts, Kara Amanda Smith, Philip D’Amore, Robert Dill, Tony Wade, David DeLuise, Wendy Braun, Jovian Allen and Ellodee Carpenter   Distributor: Max

Grade: D

When Project Greenlight, which was set up in 2001 by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as a means of competitively finding promising scripts and providing the writers (or a separately chosen director) with advice from professionals, as well as a budget, to make them, it seemed an idea that could conceivably foster new talent and result in some good little pictures (as well as a series of revealing behind-the-scenes documentaries about the nuts and bolts of the production process).

It didn’t work out as planned—except for the documentaries, which were always intriguing and often horrifying.  The first two seasons brought little dramas—“Stolen Summer” and “The Battle of Shaker Heights”—that received mediocre reviews, a meager theatrical release and modest box office returns.  “Feast,” the slasher flick of the third season, fared better, especially when released on DVD, but hardly represented a major cinematic achievement, being just competent genre stuff that might have come from any studio.  The project then went into hibernation until revived in 2015, when the process resulted in “The Leisure Class,” which was universally panned.

Now it’s been resuscitated by Max, and a ten-episode series on the making of “Gray Matter” is available on the streaming service, along with the movie itself.  The documentary is padded but, as usual, fascinating for movie buffs and anybody interested in watching what amounts to a creative train wreck.  The movie, however, is dreadful, a tale of the treatment of psionics (people endowed with special powers) that comes across like something retrieved from Stephen King’s wastebasket given bargain-basement “Twilight Zone” treatment.  (Just think of “Firestarter” without the flames.)

Aurora (Mia Isaac) is a teen isolated by her mother Ayla (Jessica Frances Dukes), who’s training her in how to control her powers (telekinesis, astral projection, telepathy and the like).  But Aurora is desperate to connect with the outside world her mother insists is dangerous, and has made contact with Isaiah (Andrew Liner), a neighborhood boy who’s infatuated with her.  When he suggests that she sneak out and join him and his friends for a party, she agrees.  A tragedy mars the gathering, and in trying to contact her mother telepathically, she instead reaches Derek (Garrett Dillahunt), a soft-spoken man with similar powers who offers her refuge in a special facility for those like them.  It turns out, of course, that Derek is not the person he claims to be (he’s certainly no Charles Xavier), and eventually Aurora and Ayla, with whom it turns out he has an unhappy history, must struggle to free themselves from his control. 

“Gray Matter” is a small-scaled, visually claustrophobic film, with a nondescript production design by Martina Buckley, murky cinematography by Andrew Jeric, rudimentary effects and lethargic pacing by Winbush and editor Byron Wong.  But its fatal flaw is the pedestrian script by Phil Gelatt, a compendium of sci-fi clichés served up with little imagination (it fashions a final face-off between the young heroine and the villain, for instance, that’s clearly inspired by Brian De Palma’s “The Fury” but has neither the wit nor the technical resources to pull it off, and it simply skirts over the potentially devastating damage of the solution that Aurora engineers at the close.)  The dialogue, moreover, is flat.

There’s some modest compensation in the performance of Isaac, who improves on her turn as John Cho’s daughter in last year’s road-trip tearjerker “Don’t Make Me Go” and manages to make one care for Aurora despite the poor writing and strained situations she must contend with.  (They’re so bad that even the depiction of the sitcom Aurora is enthralled by resembles no network program that has ever existed.)  Dukes, by contrast, is far too shrill and Dillahunt dully one-note. 

Despite its less than stellar track record, one hopes that Project Greenlight will go on with its dream of nurturing undiscovered talent.  Perhaps one day lightning will strike and a masterpiece will emerge.  And even if not, the documentaries provide inside proof of how hard it is to make a movie, even a bad one.