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  • Rev Horror


Dir. Tristan Barr (2023)

A convicted man is intercepted on the way to prison by a secret government agency who wants him to keep an eye on an experiment in exchange for commuting his sentence.


What makes something a prison? Tristan Barr's new film, Subject, which is coming August 22nd from Screambox, dissects the prison of our minds, created by our own experiences of guilt and loss, addiction and inadequacy, both real and imagined. Add in a nefarious government project and a horrifying creature and you're in for an intriguing and often terrifying experience. Subject focuses on psychological horror, and it presents it in a believable and truly horrific way.

Willem (Stephen Phillips) has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison. On the way, he is kidnapped by a government agency who forces him to monitor a secret experiment and record his thoughts in daily video diaries. His observations of the experiment are interspersed with old family videos that tell the story of his life, his family, and the events that led him to his current prison cell.

Phillips carries almost the entire weight of the film, as 90% of the movie is just him in a room talking to the camera (or slowly losing his mind). He's up to the task, however, doing a great job in the role of a family man who has lost everything, being placed in an impossibly strange situation. The bizarre mixture between psychological horror and creature feature works really well. The unique camerawork, ostensibly the cameras watching Willem, is an interesting blend of documentary style and found footage.

It's a pretty impressive film, especially considering the tiny budget. It's genuinely creepy at times, and while it does move along fairly slowly at times, it continually takes advantage a dark, foreboding ambience to effectively isolate its audience with its main character. Much like Willem, we're never entirely sure what is going on, but as the character is repeatedly subjected to psychological abuse and impersonal interrogations, we can't help but feel bad for him regardless of what he did to get himself in this situation.

As Willem's torture continues, Phillips does a phenomenal job in his portrayal of a man who is becoming increasingly unhinged. His performance is not unlike the way I feel that I would behave if in a similar circumstance. His slow descent into madness is palpable, a genuinely disturbing picture of a man who has lost all sense of space and time. Subject gave me the same feeling of the willies that I experienced during Skinamarink, though there was definitely a hell of a lot more going on and there was much more actual entertainment present.

The monster on the other side of the glass, however... I feel like I would have a much different reaction than the Phillips character. It certainly shows his empathy, as he ruminates to the camera about the creature's family and whether the experimenters are doing what is necessary to care for the creature's medical needs. Me? I'd just be screaming pretty much constantly. As he gets more up close and personal with the creature, however, he realizes exactly how much danger he is potentially in. The creature effects and sound design are excellent, really turning on the creep factor despite the minimal budget and emphasizing the spatial limitations of Willem's new prison.

Psychological horror is generally fairly passive, taking its time to weave its story in a way that will be impactful on its audience as they imagine themselves in the same situation. Subject does this incredibly well, never falling victim to the potential for monotony and ratcheting up the tension throughout. I hate to keep harping, but I really can't say enough about Stephen Phillips performance. He absolutely kills it, and I can't wait to check out some of his other work. Subject is a fantastic film, one that will stick in your mind long after viewing. For psychological horror, you can't ask for a whole lot more than that.

Who this movie is for: Indie horror fans, Psychological horror lovers, Test takers

Bottom line: Stephen Phillips turns in a performance for the ages as tortured prisoner Willem, a man who has lost his family and will soon lose his sanity as well. It's a psychologically disturbing creature feature, two diametrically opposed genres that somehow work perfectly together in this one. Director Tristan Barr, who pulls double duty as the researcher who torments Willem, does a phenomenal job. This is one that will hopefully find an audience when it opens on Shudder August 22nd.

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