CFF 2023: SUBJECT is a Transgressive Tour de Force

Subject, which I just caught virtually at the Chattanooga Film Fest is not a film that’s easily recommended due its subject matter, but that said it’s definitely a worthy watch for those interested in darker forays of cinema. The film follows Willem Peters (Stephen Phillips) on his way to prison for a sexual assault. His transport is held up at gunpoint and he is offered a choice by the hijackers: go directly to prison, or participate in an experiment for a chance to have his sentence commuted. Of course he takes the deal, and ends up in a dark cell where he is surrounded by cameras and tasked with making daily observations on a dark creature, who from a plate glass window spends its time silently gazing at Willem. As the film progresses Willem’s sanity and his past are unraveled as director Tristan Barr plunges the depths of this man’s diseased mind. 

What starts off as more of a found footage foray into dark sci-fi, slowly devolves into a transgressive deconstruction of power and fear. What that film lacks in budget, it more than makes up for it with its dense and chilling narrative filled with unflinching metaphors. Director Tristan Barr is careful to keep the reins in on where we as an audience are to stand with Willem, as we gaze at both monsters through the safety of our screen. It’s through shards and crumbs of found footage we see his life pre-cell. We see hard drugs seep into his life, and after the death of his wife from cancer it allowed other more terrifying demons to operate unchecked on his children through him. We then witness Willem fall prey to a similar power dynamic of fear, intimidation and eventually assault by the creature who spends every waking moment transfixed on its prey

Subject is a transgressive tour de force by lead Stephen Phillips, who spends the majority of the  film solitary, emotionally naked and completely lost in a thankless role that’s as inhuman as the thing behind the glass. But that’s the point here and it’s something that will challenge most viewers since we are not simply there to take pleasure in his descent or cheer him on, but to see and attempt to understand the shift of power on our protagonist and how the film uses that to deconstruct abusive relationships. Just to drive home that point, there’s a therapist who regularly checks in on Willem, whose sole purpose is making sure he doesn’t get too complacent and hopefully understands this experiment is as much about the predator he is speaking to, as the one behind the glass.

You can still buy badges for virtual CFF here and you can catch SUBJECT on ScreamBox in August 22nd!

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