There is a sliver of a subgenre nestled between high concept science-fiction and intimate drama. It includes films like Mike Cahill’s Another Earth and Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special –– modestly scaled, cerebral stories that pivot around a single supernatural component. Julia Hart’s earnest, electrifying Fast Color ranks high among movies of this type in recent memory, elevated by magnetic performances from its mystic leading women.
“…each her near-daily convulsions literally rattles the world into an earthquake…”
Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Ruth, a vigilante epileptic on the run through an arid landscape where it hasn’t rained in eight years. Water is expensive and hard to come by, which makes it all the more difficult for the seizure-prone Ruth to survive. Her fits aren’t like other people’s — each of her near-daily convulsions literally rattles the world into an earthquake — and she has to tie herself down with rope each time she feels one coming on. The hazards of her wild condition frighten her, but Ruth has other matters on her mind — namely, the team of scientists on her tail who want to lock her up for experimentation. She manages to elude them long enough to make it back to the secluded home where she grew up, reuniting with her mother Bo (Lourraine Toussaint) and preteen daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), both of whom she hasn’t seen in years.
Bo and Lila share a power that Ruth hasn’t been able to access for some time: the ability to mentally break apart objects into tiny pieces and then make them whole again. At the dinner table, Lila squints her eyes at a ceramic bowl, lifting it into the air and fracturing it into a swirling haze of blue dust before plopping it back down on the table, intact. It’s a simple, lovely visual effect, in harmony with its appealing intelligibility as a metaphor for the secret power of women to both ruin and repair. All three women are black, and the film underscores the theme of black female power through conspicuously displayed photographs of generations of smiling faces lining the walls. A giant, fraying old anthology book contains decades of entries from the magical women of their family, and Bo’s reading of these records provides periodic voiceover throughout.
“…story unfolds with high drama and zippy twists and turns…violin music swells and striking wide scenery shots…”
The story unfolds with high drama and zippy twists and turns, complete with violin music swells and striking wide scenery shots that start to feel stagy in its fast, colorful final act. But the movie’s mood is so sincere, its allegory so heartfelt, that it’s easy to forgive the theatricality. In our anxious era, Fast Color presents an elegant study of motherhood and black womanhood through a highly original lens.
Fast Color (2018) Directed by Julia Hart. Written by Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney. Fast Color premiered as part of the Narrative Spotlight competition at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.