By Leah Greenblatt
April 18, 2019 at 12:56 PM EDT
Jacob Yakob/Codeblack Films

There are hardly any colors at all in Fast Color, at least at first; just the drab grays and browns of a sun-blasted droughtland. “I guess everybody always thinks they’re living through the end of the world,” an overly-friendly stranger says to Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as they sit side by side at a diner, as casually as if he’s just talking about the weather.

It does look a whole lot like end times, though: the diner coffee comes in anemic powder form; the land outside looks as dry and parched as the Mojave; and half a grubby jug of water costs nearly as much as a full night in a motel.

For all this, Ruth — with her haunted look and legions of shadowy figures in hot pursuit (it’s not paranoia if they’re really after you!) — may be either the cause, or the solution. That’s the basic premise of filmmaker Julia Hart’s uneven but intriguing supernatural thriller, though many things go unexplained.

Why, for instance, does Ruth have seizures so drastic that she needs to tie herself down? And why does the earth outside echo her body when she does, roiling in great seismic quakes? What’s she capable of, that lab scientists and grim government types want so badly to track her down?

She won’t tell her estranged mother (Orange Is the New Black’s Lorraine Toussaint) exactly where she’s been for the last decade or so when she limps up to her remote farmhouse, though it’s clear that the young daughter she left behind (Saniyya Sidney) shares at least some of her abilities.

Mbatha-Raw brings a fierce, quiet containment to the lead role, and Hart builds so much mood through her atmospheric cinematography and deliberately slow pacing that it nearly papers over the sketched-in quality of the script. Eventually, though, you start to wish her characters would speak in more than just vague koans and disaster-movie platitudes.

In tone, Color recalls another recent arthouse dystopia, 2016’s spectral, hypnotic Midnight Special, even if it feels less firmly rooted in its own spooky mythology — more like a portrait done in dreamy, washed-out watercolors than concentrated paint. B

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