Netflix UK film review: Fast Color
Ivan Radford | On 06, Feb 2020Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Julia Hart
Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, Saniyya Sidney
Watch Fast Color online in the UK: Netflix UK
“A new world is coming. This is only the beginning.” That’s the sound of one superhero talking about another superhero at the climax of Fast Color. The striking thing about this indie sci-fi drama is that nobody looks the way on-screen superheroes often traditionally have. That’s true from their lack of special effects and their non-existent costumes all the way down to the colour of their skin, and Fast Color knows it: this is a story not just about the kind of superheroes normally left out of multiplexes, but explicitly about empowerment, identity and reclaiming one’s life story.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw has been crying out for lead roles ever since her breakout turns in Belle and Beyond the Lights. The latter debuted on VOD in the UK, so it’s perhaps apt that she’s found complex roles on streaming platforms, whether it’s Black Mirror’s San Junipero on Netflix or Apple TV+ series The Morning Show. Fast Color, which went straight to Netflix in the UK, stars Gugu as Ruth, a fugitive with a dark past but the potential for a bright future.
We first meet her on the run, being chased by the government because of her supernatural gifts. Those abilities, though, mostly take a very specific form: uncontrollable seizures that cause earth-shattering quakes. We quickly learn that she’s experienced at dealing with them, routinely strapping herself to the nearest bed until it’s over. But when the shady officials, and their scientists, get a little too close, she finds herself fleeing to one place she can be safe: home.
“We’re not superheroes,” she’s told by Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), her mother. “We’re just trying to get by.” Trying to get by, though, is what led Ruth to run away, leaving behind her daughter, Lila (Saniyya Sidney), after she stopped trusting herself to keep her powers in check.
Eight years have passed since then, and in that time, there’s been a severe drought that has pushed the price of water up prohibitively high. Ruth’s family, such as they are, are living in a dusty, dystopian wilderness – a stunning but bleak landscape that leaves them in the middle of nowhere, and yet with nowhere to hide.
Director Julia Hart, who co-wrote the script with Jordan Horowitz (her husband and the producer of La La Land), finds beauty in that harsh reality, which composer Rob Simonsen echoes with a string score that’s simultaneously mournful and hopeful. But that’s as far as the film goes in terms of world-building, rooting its mythology and its tension in the family dynamics that Ruth sends spiralling.
Indeed, the movie is at its best when it’s just watching Ruth, Bo and Lila sit around a table and talk with each other – or when they silently, but in perfect sync, make breakfast in the kitchen the morning after. Along the way, they take apart bowls and cigarettes with their minds before putting them back together, but as dazzling as those matter-of-fact miracles are, the real power comes from their instantly convincing, gorgeously understated chemistry.
Toussaint is superb as the stern but compassionate matriarch, who is as concerned and afraid of Ruth as she is keen to draw her close, while Sidney is charmingly optimistic as the youngest of the trio, happiest when fixing mechanical objects with or without her powers. That ability to make peace with her abilities is what Ruth is seeking, and it’s no coincidence that Lila should be the key to doing so; Mbatha-Raw delivers a wonderfully layered performance as the wayward woman, who’s repentant, resilient and re-energised by the rediscovery of her maternal love.
Themes of generational suffering as well as strong unity run through the script, weaving a character-driven tale that explores notions of misunderstood power, of distrust and alienation, of sacrificing oneself for others – all things that are moving, interesting and compelling in their own right, and just so happen to be in a superhero movie. It’s not until the credits role that you even consider how rare it is to see a superhero who’s also a mother, let alone three black women who are all superheroes passing the Bechdel Test as casually as if they’re on our screens every day.
“What if there’s more and you just can’t see it?” asks Lila, as they consider the notion that there might be others out there who also have the same gifts. The result is a rich, rewarding and intriguing genre flick that reclaims a genre dominated by men and proves you don’t need a budget to make something quietly groundbreaking. Somewhere between Chronicle and Logan, this is a superhero movie that finds the personal strength behind comic book cliches, making it rain with heartfelt hope. It leaves you longing for more of the world that it’s opening, both on-screen and off. If this only the beginning, the middle and end are going to be something special.
Fast Color is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.