The Subjects 2015
I’ve done it once again, and before the end of the year this time. I have seen every superhero and comic book movie that has come out in 2015 in the US (though I still have to re-watch & review Avengers: Age of Ultron for real). And like last year with Squid Man, I ended with a low budget indie movie that I absolutely fell in love with. This is technically an Australian movie, but it is available through several channels digitally worldwide. The Subjects is funny, it’s tense, and above all it’s surprising. It’s not exactly a superhero movie, but more like the deconstruction of a typical superhero origin story where things don’t go the way that you think they would. It’s more than a little ambiguous at times, but I really fell into the world that director Robert Mond was able to create.
The film starts off with a simple enough premise that owes to its low budget. There’s eight people stuck in a single room for eight hours as they are observed during a drug trial. There are the obligatory character stereotypes, though Mond was able to use a clever bit of exposition to introduce the audience to all the characters. The main character more or less is the magician slash con man John. There’s also the ditzy girl Jenna, the quiet Asian nerd Lily, the uptight businessman Devin, the new age guy who never gives his name, the ex-con arsehole Giggles, and the relatively normal girl Nikki. And if you’re good at math there is one other character that pops up about halfway through, but that requires a little bit more explaining. Many of the characters don’t really grow past their archetypes, but they are used effectively to help keep the momentum of the story going.
Things start to get interesting about twenty minutes in as one of the test subjects; the uptight businessman literally explodes in a shower of blood and it’s not too long after that when the subjects begin to realize that the pill they all took is giving them super powers. But the great thing is that this isn’t an origin story, nor is it a kid’s story. There’s no explanation given as to why this drug is being tested, how it works, or anything along those lines, and part of that reason becomes a bit of a twist near the end of the film. But what the Subjects is really interested in is to take a much more cynical look at what would happen if a random group of people were suddenly given super powers. It’s not just the cliche that “not everybody can become a hero”, but it’s much closer to “almost nobody would become a hero”. But it’s not just for lack of moral standards, but also the lack of experience, the lack of a good power, and the fact that most super powers are extremely dangerous and not just for the person on the other side.
This is a low budget film, but for the most part it’s tackled quite well. There are a handful of special effects that aren’t anything spectacular, but they get the job done. The one complaint would be against the occasional camera shake that felt very digital and unnecessary, like when it was used to accentuate a wall hit. But aside from that, the effects for the super powers looked quite nice. The actors were also played well, their cliched personalities notwithstanding. Both Giggles and Jenna walked the line between funny and annoying, and while it landed more often on the funny side for me, I could easily see it falling on the annoying side for someone else. What really helped sell it was the ambiguous ending, it’s rare to see a film that dares to not hand out a full set of answers by the end credits, or at least the strong likelihood of a happy ending. But this film ends on basically a fifty fifty split on what the outcome could be, which was quite refreshing.
The tone of the film did tend to jump around a bit between comedy and more of a thriller. It’s a difficult line to walk, but the jumps in tone when they happened were effective. It was also a unique choice to set up a literal ticking clock situation, but Mond doesn’t fall back on the cliche of relying on cutaways to that ticking clock to build tension. Instead, it almost comes all the way around to the other side where you want to know how much time is left but it’s not shown. The pacing of the film is pretty brisk, though it surprisingly takes a little while to get going with an unnecessary argument about taking the pill in the first place. Which is a little odd in the first place since the entire film runs a very short 80 minutes. But it is one of the more unique looks at superheroes that is slightly reminiscent of Chronicle only without the found footage angle and with more powers than just telekinesis. I really enjoyed the twists and turns, especially what they do with one character’s power of invisibility that’s not just invisibility to the eyes, but invisibility to the mind as well. There are just a lot of unique ideas presented in a very unique way that I really loved. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.