Review by Mark Schwab
September 5th, 2018
It can be very easy and reassuring to use words like "experimental" and "avant-garde" when attempting your first feature film. It frees the director from requiring any filmmaking craft and allows them to shrug off any criticism from bitter film critics who just didn't get the "vision" or "message". I'm not 100% sure that director Markus Hauck intentionally set out to make his feature film debut TEST SUBJECTS within those two genres but intentional or not, Hauck has delivered a film that has no connection to any sort of audience.
The official synopsis states that the film is about "A teacher of at-risk students plunges into an abyss triggered by his own tenuous mental state for which there is no escape until he submits to a mysterious medical process." Ok, I can wrap my head around that but the resulting 73 minutes barely hints at those ideas while doing everything in its power to make you stop paying attention to what happens on the screen. There's a vague car accident, our protagonist interviewed (or interrogated...tough to tell) by a shrink, a weird digitized talking head gurgling sentences in the mold of Richard Burton's character from the movie 1984 - it's all totally confusing and none of it generated any suspense, tension or even cerebral, what-the-hell-is-going-on drama. It's just mashed-together images seemingly put up on the screen at random.
Visually, the film is inert with constant still frame backgrounds (again seemingly at random) and poorly-composed picture-in-picture shots simply slapped on top of it giving the movie a very public-access-television feel. "Public Access Television" is usually not a wise description to shoot for when making a movie. It doesn't fare any better in the sound department with a muddy music score and mumbled dialogue clashing with unknown sound effects. Poor visuals and messy sound mixing in the same movie doesn't leave much to grab onto try as one may.
Don't get me wrong...I'm all for pushing envelopes and out-of-the-box ideas when it comes to movies (Harmony Korine's TRASH HUMPERS comes to mind) but there needs to be a minimum of visual and sound recording skill on display. Especially when one is trying to send a message/raise awareness on mental health, inner city poverty/violence and the validity of the psychiatric process. Those are serious issues deserving of the filmic process and while I do believe that Markus Hauck sincerely tried to make a different kind of movie and not some put-on, Dennis Hopper-LAST MOVIE-esque bullshit, there just wasn't enough here to garner an emotional or psychological reaction from me. Plus, to be fair, this does seem to be Hauck's first crack at a feature film and you have to start somewhere. Hell, at least he finished the movie and is putting it out there so Hauck is still ahead of the game compared to plenty of filmmakers in my book.
On his Facebook page, Hauck declares "I guarantee you haven't seen anything quite like it." I wholeheartedly agree with him on that point. Unfortunately, it didn't change the fact that for me TEST SUBJECTS played like it was made for an audience of one - the filmmaker himself.
Think I'm wrong? I certainly encourage you to check out the film in its entirety here: https://vimeo.com/285600728