Some may argue a directors biggest feat is getting a strong performance out of their actors, and Julia Hart is no stranger to overcoming that obstacle. Hart’s directorial debut, Miss Stevens (2016) came and went without much notice, but there is no doubt that while portraying the protagonist – Lily Rabe delivered the performance of her career. You may not have seen or even heard of Julia Hart’s sophomore feature, Fast Color – as the film fell victim to faulty distribution and got swallowed up by the presence of late spring blockbusters. Co-written alongside her partner Jordan Horowitz, Hart developed a small-scale superhero origin story that nevertheless, demands to be seen.
The film takes place in the not-so-distant future, in the American Midwest, where a prolonged drought has turned society fraught. With water now being used as a kind of currency, all that seems to be left in this dystopia is dust, roadside bars, and the wide openness of the Midwest. We are first introduced to our protagonist – Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – as she escapes an abandoned warehouse and flees into the night. Later it is revealed that Ruth is a recovering addict, who happens to have debilitating sieziures that are so powerful she can create devastating destruction. She walks along the dirt roads -alone – sometimes stopping for a meal here or there. In one of the sparsely populated diners, she meets a man who offers to drive her to her destination, and in a brilliant scene radiating with tension, it is revealed that government workers are tracking her – hoping to understand her powers and use them to put the world back together again. This sets off a series of events which leads Ruth to seek out her estranged mother – Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) – and daughter – Lila (Saniyya Sidney).
What begins as a tension filled mystery, reinvents itself into an emotional character study of three generations of black women, who carry enough power within themselves to change the world. The film poses the question of what are these individuals going to do with this power? Are they going to harbor it for themselves or use it to potentially change the devastated world they live in? Fast Color differs from popular blockbuster superhero stories, by showcasing the terror that can come with being different in a world that is stagnantly familiar. There is a connection – to not only Ruth, but Bo and Lila as well – that feels revolutionary in a way that other superhero films have not yet achieved. Often times, the film shines when it veers away from the science fiction aspects, and delves into the tense family drama at the root of this story. There is poignant fragility that comes with super-heroism handled in a way that isn’t a spectacle, but rather character study. Fast Color, is indefinitely Ruth’s story. Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines as the fragile and lost recoveree, who then turns into a selfless, hopeful hero. No matter how lost she finds herself, Ruth fights through it with a persistence only known to a superhero.
Fast Color is a film that fell victim to unfortunate timing – being released in only 25 theaters, alongside the wake of superhero flicks like Shazam!, and horror films such as Pet Semetary. The film perfectly displays the fragility of the human experience, with fleshed out character who add to it’s authenticity. While it initially wasn’t seen by enough people, there is no doubt that this film is special and will resonate with those who seek it out. Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz have created a whisper of a film, that while quiet, demands to be seen.