Overview: Eight strangers get stuck in a clinical trial and discover that they are developing superpowers. Instinct Entertainment; 2015; Not Rated; 78 minutes.
A “B” On Its Chest: There’s a delightful B-movie rhythm in the opening of The Subjects, the new indie film out of Australia written and directed by Robert Mond. With seemingly intentionally stiff dialogue, empty broad stroke characterization, and hokey and obvious special effect work, Mond arranges all the right foundation pieces to support a movie that is joyful in its shortcomings. Even the film’s first onscreen death is so jarringly misplaced that it feels like a choreographed pratfall. Given the apparent target of the film’s loose satire (more on that shortly), this brand of cheapness could easily function as part of the thematic and interpretative package.
The Bottle Episode: The Subjects has one set piece, a singular location in which the entire film plays out (at least in the most physical, observable sense). The narrative can not break or escape; it can only jump. This story structure also traps the viewer with every character, at least until he/she perishes. Because of this, the same generic personality traits that hinted at B-film glory in the opening segment become somewhat grating with inescapable exposure. Frank Magree’s Giggles is a character so dauntingly committed to his anger that it would be misleading to describe it as “explosive.” The flighty Jenna, played by Emily Wheaton, quickly overspends her stock airheaded role and even the film’s functional protagonist Nikki (Katherine Innes) becomes a bit grating in her flatness. Only Lilly (Charlotte Nicdao) manages to overcome the claustrophobic story structure to build and maintain charm within her character, the token nerd whose hobbyist interest help provide exposition for the viewer.
Confused Nemeses: The Subjects is a movie that’s being described as an “anti-superhero film” and any small scale, indie movie brazen enough to openly take that stance is worth some attention. For a stretch, Mond explores a more realistic and dangerous scenario in which ordinary people come to terms with discovering their own superhuman abilities, a chapter often glossed over with comedic or cinematic packaging in traditional superhero stories. This rationalization helps highlight the willful narrative shortcuts and simplifications often taken by big blockbuster superhero properties, a method of storytelling that some might deem cheap, simple, or unthought. If the reflective criticism had held evenly at this diagnosis, The Subjects might have been a rather significant contribution to the larger conversation on the topic. However, as this avenue intersects with a confusing time travel subplot, backstory hidden in narrative obfuscation.
Overall: Mond’s film is a standard superhero origin story, though it’s hard to determine exactly which path we’re supposed to trace on its interpretive map.