(director/writer: Julia Hart ; screenwriter: Jordan Horowitz; cinematographer: Michael Fimognari; editor: Martin Pensa; music: Rob Simonsen; cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Ruth), Lorraine Toussaint (Bo), Saniyya Sidney (Lila), Christopher Denham (Bill), David Strathairn (Ellis); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon, Jordan Horowitz; Codeblack Films; 2018)

“Makes for a different type of superhero movie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The indie drama played at the SXSW film fest. It’s a black superhero film, with a black woman starring. The sci-fi drama is directed by Julia Hart (“Miss Stevens”) and is co-written by Hart and her husband Jordan Horowitz. The narrative makes for a different type of superhero movie, one meant to be a change-breaker for superhero films.

The allegorical tale is about three generations of black women who are forced to suppress their strengths and are thereby left suffocating in the world. The story is set in the near-future when the world is in a state of collapse because it hasn’t rained for 8 years and all the crops have died. Water is the most valued resource in the planet. On the run from her government captors who want to use her superpowers for their own purposes is the addict named Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who has blood on her wrists after freeing herself with her own power while tied-up with a rope. When Ruth has a seizure she causes an earthquake, which causes much damage to the planet and much concern to Ruth. Ruth returns to her dust bowl American home in Garrison after she fled years ago as a teenager and finds there her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) and her estranged teenage daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), someone she never knew who was raised by her mom. We learn that Ruth has superpowers that the government and others wanted to exploit and she fled because she was afraid she couldn’t stop them from using her, even as she became a drug addict to weaken her powers. Bo and Lila also have these powers, as such DNA is supposedly inherited. Bo can burst objects into molecules and put them back together just as they were and see colors in them. While the more practical minded Lila can do similar parlor tricks but aims to be an expert mechanic and is anxious to leave home soon to see the world.

The strange but smart story is inspirational. It wants us to think about how mankind has stifled women, especially black women, for so long without taking advantage of all their abilities. The narrative examines the anxiety and pain of these women and how they have been mistreated through the years. It calls out that the real superheroes are the mothers who raise families and keep them together. The musical score by Rob Simonsen is synth-heavy at times when it sets an eerie mood. Christopher Denham plays a dogged scientist in pursuit of Ruth, while David Strathairn plays the suspicious local sheriff who tries to keep an eye on Ruth since her return. The performances are appealing and the story-line is challenging, but all the plot holes and pseudo-science talk left me somewhat baffled.

I felt things should have been more magical. The first two parts dragged, as the film didn’t come to life until the third act when the three generations of black women share their rich history.