A group of strangers arrive for a drug trial where all they have to do is take a pill and stay in a locked room together to be observed for eight hours. This certainly seems simple enough despite the pills seeming to contain some odd crystals, but things get quickly out of hand when it transpires that the pills have granted each of them an otherworldly ability.
The Subjects takes the concept of a superhero origin story and gives it an infusion of realism. Taking place entirely within the confines of a single room, it treads similar ground to the abridged body horror aspect of the much maligned Fantastic Four reboot, presenting the idea that far from developing a sudden affinity for garish spandex and histrionic crimefighting, becoming physically altered in ways you can barely comprehend would probably be quite traumatic. Instead of blessed chosen ones being bestowed with superhuman powers by a quirk of fate, this group are little more than human lab rats whose confusion and suffering exists only to be observed by faceless, unseen scientists (hence the film’s title). Things are given an added degree of tension when the group realise they were selected for the trial because nobody would miss them if they were to suddenly disappear.
The manifesting powers vary in strength from standard abilities such as teleporting and invisibility to slightly naff ones like being able to change an object’s colour. Despite the gamechanging nature of some of them, events continually transpire to keep the action contained in ways that never feel forced.
However, it’s primarily the people that drive the story rather than the powers. The enforced intimacy of the scenario places the focus on the characters, and the diverse assortment of clashing personalities makes for engaging viewing. No character is secondary or superfluous, and the individual plight of each of them goes some way to advancing the story. Even stock characters like a thuggish ex-con or a vacuous party girl have their own quirks. These are just ordinary people thrust unwittingly into an extraordinary situation.
Not all questions are answered by the end, which can be forgiven given the unenlightened position of the characters, while later revelations that cause you to question what you’ve previously seen manage to hold up when the film is rewatched.
THE SUBJECTS / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ROBERT MOND / STARRING: PAUL O’BRIEN, KATHARINE INNES, FRANK MAGREE, CHARLOTTE NICDAO, PAUL HENRI, EMILY WHEATON, SPENCER MCLAREN, TOSH GREENSLADE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW