By Anoushka Dalmia
BU News Service
“The world’s gonna die. I can feel it coming.”
These are the chilling first words in Director Julia Hart’s sophomore film “Fast Color,” a film about a woman with supernatural powers in a world ravaged by a continuous drought, which opened Boston Women’s Film Festival last Thursday.
The film’s dystopia isn’t far-fetched. Water is scarce, and the only way humanity has coped with it has been to raise prices. In a world where a motel room costs $35, a jug of water is $50, coffee is a luxury and swimming is unheard of by children. This isn’t a strange world at all, which makes it all the more terrifying.
But this film isn’t about what led mankind here, as one might expect. It’s about a woman, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and the lineage of black women she belongs to. She has uncontrollable seizures that cause earthquakes, and men are after her, chasing the allure of this power.
In desperation, Ruth returns home to her mother and the daughter she abandoned. But in doing so, she is leading those men to the family’s secret — the women in her family can manipulate matter in strange ways.
The film benefits from focusing on the relationship between the three women. The banter between them is relatable; so is the tension. Mother-daughter relationships can be made of equal parts strength and frailty, and the merit of this film rests in the actors who portray that relationship.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, of “Black Mirror’s” “San Junipero,” manages to pull the audience into every emotion, causing giggles and gasps to erupt from the crowd at every turn. Lorraine Toussaint as Bo, the mother, establishes her character’s presence beyond the role of the strong matriarch. And Saniyya Sidney as Lila (the daughter), is delightful in every scene.
When compared to mainstream sci-fi movies, the movie’s setting looks very simple, which is a virtue in its own right. The wide shots of New Mexico, helmed by cinematographer Michael Fimognari of Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” add to the ethereal feel of the film. The plainness of the backdrop and a daily life routine make for a surprisingly calming watch.
But the plot falls short with every thread it picks up. It deals with race, loneliness, abandonment, superpowers, the recklessness of man and the doom of climate change. There’s a loose thread about addiction too, but by the end, none of these themes amount to much. This culminates in a conclusion that feels rushed and unsatisfactory.
This isn’t to say that the plot doesn’t have promise. Amazon Studios must have felt the same way, because a TV show based on the film is in the works. It’s being produced by Viola Davis, of “How To Get Away With Murder,” and her husband Julius Tennon’s JuVee Productions. The writers of the film are attached as well, and they plan on expanding upon the seeds planted in the film. Television might just be the format to tell this story as it deserves to be told.
“Fast Color” was originally released in April in a handful of theaters after Lionsgate ended their partnership with Codeblack, the distributor of the film.
“Film festivals unearth films that were buried by the politics of the Hollywood industry,” said Katherine Irving, the Museum of Fine Arts programming lead, expressing her disappointment about the limited release.
A film with three black female leads isn’t exactly typical of Hollywood’s big releases. This makes film festivals all the more crucial. Jo-Ann Graziano, the executive director of the festival, emphasized that its purpose is to “raise awareness of women’s vision, both in front of the camera and behind it.”