The film begins with a view of a computer screen. The person in control of the computer screen is unknown, but it is evident that the mysterious viewer is accessing confidential footage from an event in 2019. As the video playback begins, viewers also get to watch three criminals who are in transit. Small chit-chat is shared, but it’s evident that no one is pleased about where they are headed.
While in transit, noises are heard outside, and the van stops. The back door opens, revealing a mysterious man in a suit holding a clipboard and asking for Willem Peters (Stephen Phillips). Willem reveals himself and is offered an opportunity- an alternate sentence. It turns out that Willem has the requirements and qualifications to allow him to be part of something extraordinary. Should he accept, he will be monitored and assessed. Willem feels he won’t last long in prison and takes the opportunity. Waking up in bed wearing some overalls, Willem discovers he’s locked in a small room with cameras recording his every movement. He is invited to join the suited stranger, Dalesky (Tristan Barr), in another room where he will begin an assessment.
Subject is best described as a horror and thriller feature. It’s a highly creative story that uses a small cast and small spaces incredibly well. As the film begins, it’s impossible not to be curious about what will happen to Willem in the various tests, questioning and unusual methods. As the film progresses, viewers gain a more robust understanding of Willem’s life through multiple flashbacks. The flashbacks are filled with happiness, the discovery of love and moments with his children, as well as tragedy and poor choices, which lead him to be in handcuffs. The film is even more dramatic when Willem discovers a creature lives in the room next door. Is the creature real? Or does the creature represent something else? And more importantly, will Willem be a successful subject and be able to live a life of freedom?
The atmosphere throughout the entire runtime is excellent. When Willem begins his tests, noises are heard outside of his walls, and there’s a great use of lighting. More importantly, the entire world surrounding Willem feels small, tight, and nightmarish, which is what I imagine being in prison would be like. Subject introduces many fun sci-fi aspects through the creature who lurks next door to Willem and through the use of technology. This film is visually great to watch, thanks to Director Tristan Barr (who also plays Dalesky). I admired some of the creative choices, including adding static-like effects as if viewers were watching old cassette-like footage.
Overall, this is a stunning Australian horror feature from Director/Producer/actor Tristan Barr. Subject introduces the leading character (played excellently by Stephen Phillips) and its plot outline instantly before throwing the lead into a crammed, small world, inducing curiosity from viewers. Areas of lighting, creature design, and technology create a creepy, unsettling and highly mysterious atmosphere. Special effects- like the VHS static on various scenes- all add to a beautiful yet haunting experience.
Subject (2022) is Available on Screambox from August 22nd.