Film Review: Robert Mond’s The Subjects
Addy Fong checks out the latest piece of visual-psychological experimentation from Robert Mond:
The antithesis of all superhero movies has always been reality; the implausible likelihood that heroes exist within our world, the kryptonite to this dream. Unknown and untested, Robert Mond’s The Subjects is an examination of this is probability, the question as to whether or not ordinary people can be heroes, well, if ordinary people can develop superpowers.
Locked in a old, abandoned recording studio for eight hours in a clinical trial, eight strangers are given the task of consuming a pill and undergoing observation of its effects in exchange for a large sum of money. The company behind the drug is SunSkye, a global technology and pharmaceutical corporation introduced at the beginning of the film as revolutionary and life changing.
There is truth in this statement, but reality for The Subjects in this experiment is more sombre. Characters are given choices, well forced into choices, which makes the story a little concerning considering that the freedom of choice is not granted to any of the subjects despite their prior mistakes.
Worse than being stuck having to complete a group project with someone you despise, the minimalistic use of one room, of one confined location, enhances the ever-growing tension between a variety of personalities who clearly are set to clash. Leaders emerge, rebels surface and the laid back style established by the film’s comedic elements makes for a palatable approach to the tense situation that arises especially when characters are faced with the danger of death by internal combustion which is both strange and disturbingly compelling to witness.
The cast, which includes Pip Mushin, Spencer McLaren, Emily Wheaton, Charlotte Nicdao, Frank Magree, Tosh Greenslade, Paul Henri, Katharine Innes, and Paul O’Brien, is both a visual representation of the diversity and a celebration of Australia’s diverse climate. As the film progresses characters change and we observe how each character learns to cope with situations that arise and bear witness to changes within group dynamics.
Through the use of handheld and first person perspective the subjects thrusts viewers into the role of a fellow participant in this experiment as we too watch the horror unfold. The use of handheld during scenes of dialogue quickly establishes a sense of uncertainty due the camera’s shakiness, and tracking shots place us into the role of observer, witness, and sleuth.
From the beginning we too watch the creepily manufactured trailer for the SunSyke company, we too witness the aftermath of the pill’s effects on the subjects as the film progresses, and we too feel trapped by the helplessness of choice. Perhaps saying this, the lack of interactivity film provides as a linear text and a prerecorded medium is an allusion to the helplessness these characters face if their ending has already been written. Like so many of the characters, we are but silent witnesses, frozen with uncertainty unable to change the hands of fate or in this case, the course of the story.
The Subjects seems a little mismatched when incorporating elements of comedy, science fiction, and thriller into the one film. The film itself feels plain, it does not feel visually compelling or dramatic like superhero movies although special effects are featured throughout. Perhaps this strange assemblage of genres inhibits the impact a character’s actions have and as a result, for myself personally, consequences of their actions seem minor, ineffective, and at times absurd. That said, the strength of this film is in the ordinariness or realism it grants. Nothing seems exaggerated in the story; it seems a darker more realistic portrayal of the science fiction genre where the concept of hero and villain are blurred, and the choices made are considered not by only those who make them but those affected by them.
The Subjects is most suited to the intimacy of a small screen, at times it seeming to resonate with characteristics of television rather than film. Small screens are inviting, intimate, and personal spaces in which we choose to consume an array of visual media, and perhaps by accident, the film seems to suit viewing on a small screen. Perhaps interpreted as a film created for the individual, thanks to the use of Mond’s laid back and humorous style, the handheld shots, and a mixture of characters all appealing to different elements of our personality, The Subjects is film which invites viewers to sit down, watch, consume, and in some strange way become a part of the experiment.
Review by Addy Fong.