[Movie Review] SUBJECT

SUBJECT is brought to us by director/actor Tristan Barr and writer Vincent Befi. While Barr is an award-winning director and producer of several different films and genres, SUBJECT is Befi’s first full-length feature film. SUBJECT has a small cast, led by Stephen Phillips as our protagonist, Willem; Cecilia Low as his wife; and Gaby Seow and Scarlett Walker as their children. Despite the skeleton crew and (what I presume to be) a small budget, SUBJECT really has a lot to explore in a short amount of time.

The story starts when Willem (Phillips) is being transported to prison for a crime he swears he hasn’t committed. However, along the way, the van is stopped by a mysterious figure (Barr) who gives him the option – to go to prison or be part of an experiment. Realizing he has no real choice, Willem agrees before he’s knocked out. When he regains his senses, he finds himself in a strange place. Being recorded at all times, Willem’s instructed to keep a video log every day as part of the experiment.

Throughout his imprisonment, clips of his previous life play, giving the audience pieces of who he had been previously and the family he was a part of. After a while, he grows more restless, as the scientist (Barr) drills him with questions that don’t seem to matter or make sense and shocks him if he doesn’t answer. Day after day, Willem becomes more desperate, angry, and frustrated with what he’s doing there and why he’s doing it…

Until something in the next room finally appears and everything starts to unravel.

SUBJECT is what I love and respect about horror. It had a small crew. It had (again, I’m assuming) a tight budget. Handling visual effects was Jacob Burghart, and the makeup team consisted of Aline Joyce, Dion Marc, and Ollie Savage.

But did they nail it?

Courtesy Screambox

Yes. They absolutely did. The creature’s design and movements were incredibly creepy. The sets were designed to perfectly play with light and dark, making each scene feel genuine, natural, and claustrophobic. They did the smart thing of showing a little more of the creature each time, playing with the shadows and darkness. Often I feel like an old man, yelling time and time again, “Less is more!” So, when we as an audience actually get that well-paced and properly placed jumpscare, it’s built up. It’s not cheap but earned.

The music was diegetic, as were the sounds, so it didn’t feel like the music was overextending itself, or an unwelcome guest. The characters were interesting and engaging enough that we didn’t need ambient music to guide us into any emotion. We feel everything naturally as each scene blurs into the next, creating the backstory of a single, desperate man.

That being said, the acting ranges from flat to great. Some scenes of Willem starting to lose his sanity seem forced and feel like…well, like someone acting (i.e. when he keeps blowing his runny snot around). And to be honest, I did not understand the attraction or the dynamic with his wife. From the beginning, they seemed antagonistic toward each other. There wasn’t a connection between them and little chemistry.

However, SUBJECT’s story is interesting nonetheless. The backstory has a good payoff. The ending wraps things up in a way that doesn’t disappoint (horror can absolutely fall apart in the end). There are questions of sanity, free will, sin, redemption, and wrath that I didn’t expect to find. On a surface level, SUBJECT is a spooky tale of loneliness and bad choices. Deeper, it’s about consequences, morality, and taking ownership of one’s flaws. SUBJECT is a clever indie gem that will haunt you even after the credits stop rolling.

The mind-bending Australian found footage horror film is now streaming on SCREAMBOX.

J.M. Brannyk
Movie Reviews

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