Gugu Mbatha-Raw conjures moody, low-budget magic in Fast Color

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      Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Rating unavailable

      In Fast Color, everything feels parched and thirsty.

      Green is a hue that’s noticeably absent from director Julia Hart’s palette, as she shoots bleak motel rooms, roadside taverns, and decrepit farmhouses set amid tumbleweeds and dead cornfields. Characters are constantly lugging around gallon jugs of water.

      It turns out that running taps are a thing of the distant past. We learn early on in this atmospheric dystopian genre-defier that the planet has faced drought for eight years.

      The film is anchored by the magnetic and steely Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays the mysterious Ruth. In Fast Color’s breathless opening, she is on the run, ropes gnawing at her wrists and a gun in her bag.

      When she hides out in a broken-down motel, she has a violent seizure that appears to bring on an earthquake.

      Ruth has supernatural powers she can sometimes control with drugs. And the government wants to get their hands on her, to try and harness her abilities to save the planet; they’ve sent out the wonderfully creepy-nerdy agent Bill (Christopher Denham) to chase her down in his brown station wagon.

      She flees to her old homestead, where we find out she comes from a family of strong women with even stronger supernatural gifts.

      It’s a strange and enticing mix: a superhero origin story and sci-fi paranormal effects mix with apocalyptic allegory.

      Along the way, screenwriters Hart and Jordan Horowitz make ambitious attempts to touch on race, addiction, motherhood, the climate crisis, generational trauma, and female empowerment—with varying degrees of success.

      The midsection of the movie bogs down badly, as Ruth attempts to develop her powers at the farmhouse and talks—at length—through her difficult past with her mother Bo (the impressive force of nature that is Lorraine Toussaint).

      But these women are so grounded, and Hart creates such moody, low-budget magic through the images and retro-synth score, that you can’t help but get drawn in despite the ponderous pacing.

      The payoff for your patience is an ending that, yes, provides some of the spectacle you might crave in a movie about the supernatural. But it’s also played in a way that washes you over with hope—and that opens symbolic, and politically radical, new meaning.

      And in this era of endless Marvel movies and empty government promises, that’s a feat of almost superpower dimensions.