Superhero origin stories typically center on a hero coming into their power and realizing the responsibilities therein. In studio-made films, this arc is accompanied by flashy costumes, super-villains, and elaborate action sequences. But as the superhero genre evolves, inventive indies are pushing their tropes into thrillingly unexpected new realms. In Fast Color, writer/director Julia Hart uses the superhero origin structure to explore the struggles and glory of becoming a mother.
Co-written by Hart and her husband Jordan Horowitz, Fast Color centers on Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young woman with a mighty but mysterious power that she feels powerless against. Violent seizures wrack Ruth’s body, and when they do the earth itself quakes. This ability fascinates and frightens shady men in power who crave absolute control. So, she’s on the run, across a dystopian desert where water is as scarce as comfort. But Ruth has a sanctuary in mind. She heads to her old home, where her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) raises Lila (Saniyya Sidney) the young daughter Ruth left behind years before. Ruth hopes her family can help her master these abilities. And she hopes for a second shot at being a mom. But as government agents close in, this resilient family of black women will be tested.
Fast Color is not based on a comic. Its hero doesn’t banter or don a spandex uniform. She doesn’t even have a superhero name. But like many who have come before her, Ruth has a power that destines her for something great. She didn’t choose it. She was chosen. But being given such a gift doesn’t mean one’s ready to handle it. Hart and Horowitz show us a heroine not only on the run from the government, but also from her daughter and her powers. Ruth’s bravery isn’t a matter of facing down a Big Bad, but facing her fear of failure. Her climax is less about saving the world than rescuing herself.
Mbatha-Raw, who has wowed previously with Belle, Beyond The Lights, and Black Mirror: San Junipero, is a force of nature. She throws herself full-bodied into every moment, whether she’s thrashing on a grimy hotel bed or tenderly talking with Ruth’s reticent little girl. Raw’s dark eyes alternately swell with regret, flash with rage, and shine with hope. Her voice sounds hushed and earnest, as if she fears it might shatter. Her body is so rigid with the tension of Ruth’s trauma that the film practically vibrates. Then, Toussaint proves her perfect match, meeting all that anxious energy with a coolness so deep and inviting it may make you pleasantly shudder as if you’ve sunk into a crisp summer lake. Her voice is velvet, her gaze warm yet stern. Her inner-strength reflected in the bright-eyed Sidney, who brings a striking sincerity to round out this complicated family dynamic. Together, this trio weaves a tapestry of love, pain, and magic that is absolutely magnificent to behold.
Fast Color is a beautiful, moving, and aspirational story of heroism and resilience. It rejects the standard garishness of the superhero genre in favor of something grittier and more cerebral. Like Freaks, it dares to be different, taking on an original story that grounds this high-flying genre, subverts its expectations, yet thrills us all the same. Simply put, Fast Color is extraordinary and not to be missed.
Kristy Puchko is Film Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Puchko (@KristyPuchko) is a New York-based film critic and entertainment journalist, her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, IndieWire, Nerdist, and Pajiba (to name a few). Ms. Puchko is a regular contributor on the Slashfilmcast, and teaches a course on film criticism at FIT. To see more of her work, visit DecadentCriminals.com