At this point, there are so many movies about receiving the gift of superpowers or the exploration of supernatural gifts in the form of superhero films. Fast Color doesn’t really follow in the footsteps of these movies and that’s what makes it stand out. On the surface, Fast Color shares similar attributes to other films in its genre, but it’s far more of a contained and intimate story and it’s all the better for it.
Directed by Julia Hart and co-written by her and Jordan Horowitz, Fast Color is set in the future (though exactly when is unknown) and opens with Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman whose powers cause seizures, is on the run. It hasn’t rained in 8 years and everything has dried up, water is scarce and costs over $50 a gallon. Ruth has just made it to a motel and is cleaning the wounds on her wrist before she starts to shake. Understanding she’s about to have a seizure brought on by her powers, the wounds on her wrist are explained when she ties herself to the bedpost just as the whole motel begins to shake.
When she has a run-in with a government scientist who wants to take her in for testing, she finds refuge back home. Her mother, Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), however, is reluctant to let her stay because Ruth had up and left years prior, knowingly leaving her daughter, Lila (Saniyya Sidney) behind. Bo is cautious to let her back into their lives, but she does and they slowly begin to heal their relationship. The reasons for why Ruth left slowly start to reveal themselves as she reacquaints herself with her daughter and her powers, but the man after her isn’t far behind.
Fast Color is, first and foremost, about three generations of Black women: their history, their fierce love and the responsibility they have for each other. The supernatural aspect of the film plays second fiddle to the characters (something which is greatly appreciated). Ruth, Bo, and Lila are extraordinary women, each of whom share the secret of their powers apart and together. The film leans into the fact that they are strongest together and it isn’t overly preachy about it nor is it about their powers; it’s about the connection to family, history, and love that makes all of them, Ruth especially, realize the true nature of their potential.
What stands out the most is that, powers or no powers, the film is grounded in reality. The world is a bit more bleak and the status of humanity’s survival questionable amid the scarcity of water. Even while Ruth is on the run, there’s a profound sense of isolation, not only for her, but of everyone she interacts with. Some of this is because of the vastness and desolation of the small, middle of nowhere towns she visits, but the general sense of despair is thick in the air as we watch the characters live like they’re on their last legs.
Fast Color is often quiet, introspective, and is more concerned with Ruth’s journey than the theatricality and heroics that are often so intrinsically tied to this genre. In fact, the apocalyptic nature of Fast Color is entrenched in almost every aspect of the movie, but it’s more potent because it maintains its sense of realism. It sets its big moment amid the backdrop of an empty wasteland, filling it with a sudden sense of hope, meaning, and realization for Ruth, as well as what it could mean for the world at large. It’s important that Ruth’s journey is so intrinsically tied to not only her family, but also to the rest of her environment, making the film’s climax much more impactful.
Ruth’s journey is at the center of Fast Color. She tries to hide her powers (they are more of a curse for her), unable to control them, hides from the family she’s run away from, and narrowly escapes the people chasing her. Her path towards heroism is different than what we’ve come to expect, but beautiful and engaging nonetheless. Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings her A-game to the role as she embodies every layer of emotion Ruth works through. As someone who’s constantly in distress and looking for safety and seemingly lost with no driving force, Ruth finds salvation and purpose when she returns to her childhood home. One of the film’s strengths is its exploration of the complexities of motherhood and the different ways in which Ruth and Bo each handle and come to terms with it. Mbatha-Raw really drives the film and her performance is moving and laced with nuance that conveys Ruth’s thought process and progress.
Fast Color is both worldly and intimate, framing its story so it remains tethered to the specific struggles of Ruth and her family, but with implications beyond that of their lives. The film is visually stunning, the story intricate and private, unfolding like a long-held secret that’s only just bubbling to the surface. It’s surprisingly emotional, deep, and incredibly feminist without being overt. The discovery of exactly what Ruth can do when in control of her powers is wonderfully executed and poignant. Beyond the story and visuals, the film also benefits from an amazing cast, with Lorraine Toussaint and Saniyya Sidney equally giving just as much of themselves to their respective roles.
Fast Color isn’t your average hero film and that’s part of what makes it so refreshing and engaging. It’s focused, grounded in a realism that never takes away from the sci-fi/fantasy aspects, and centers Ruth and her family in a way that is hopeful and cathartic. The characters drive the story instead of the other way around and it’s bolstered by a tremendous cast and an authenticity that makes for a moving viewing experience.
The characters drive the story instead of the other way around and it's bolstered by a tremendous cast and an authenticity that makes for a moving viewing experience.