“This is a film about all the nuanced little ways in which notions of supremacy distance white people from other humans. It’s a long ramp with a barely perceptible incline that ultimately leads to someone standing by and watching while a black person is killed. Or maybe even doing the killing.”Chisa Hutchinson, screenwriter
Director Lanie Zipoy’s feature film directorial debut, THE SUBJECT, is a powerful commentary on both racial and class divides and the exploitation that’s often practiced under the guise of “concern” for those who are underprivileged.
The film follows documentarian Phil Waterhouse (Jason Biggs), on the heels of his last documentary “The Price of Brotherhood,” which catapulted him to success after capturing the murder of his teenaged subject Malcolm (Nile Bullock). While filming his latest project, Phil’s life begins to derail as questions arise about his actions, or inaction, surrounding Malcolm’s death and he becomes the “subject” of someone’s video monitoring.
In this social era, where the filming of death and murder – in particular those of Black people – has become all too common, “The Subject” could have fallen victim to the “too much, too soon” style of storytelling.
But where this film differs and shines is in its ability to illuminate the actions of people who espouse awareness for the greater good, while failing to examine their own detrimental actions, and thinking, in the process.
In Phil’s case, this also involves those closest to him, like his live-in girlfriend Jess (Anabelle Acosta) who, although kept in the dark regarding some of Jason’s actions while filming, is content with accepting his truths. That is until an offense against her is made, after which she acknowledges that he is the “king of manipulation” to make himself look like a good guy.
Or Phil’s “would be” mistress Marley (Carra Patterson), whom he showed a never-before-seen “The Price of Brotherhood” outtake that didn’t present him in the best light, knowing she would tell him what he most wanted to hear – anything flattering which would help him keep up pretenses.
The highlight of the film for me is Aunjanue Ellis as Malcolm’s grief-stricken mother Leslie. Ellis’s ability to command a scene, going from zero to 100 in range within seconds, is dynamic, compelling and heart-wrenching.
And the final scene of the emotionally gripping “The Subject” serves as a dramatic masterclass between its two leads. Ellis as a mother seeking revenge is ice and fire personified, while Jason Biggs delivers his most powerful performance to date.
A contemplative and extremely well-acted drama, that slightly plays like a thriller, “The Subject” is a knock-out for director Zipoy and a highly recommended watch. I rate it 4 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
THE SUBJECT will premiere in select theaters and is available on VOD and Digital on October 22.
Until next thought, Thomasena
PS: Check out my chat with stars Nile Bullock (Malcolm) and Carra Patterson (Marley) about their roles in the film, de-escalating from challenging scenes, and the MMT signature question in the below video.