Saturday, February 8

Horse Girl Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: Jeff Baena
Starring: Alison Brie, John Reynolds, Debbie Ryan, Molly Shannon & Paul Reiser
Netflix Original – February 7, 2020

Sarah (Brie) is a young, nervous and awkward woman that spends her time crafting, hanging out with her horse, impending mental collapse and/or being abducted by aliens. In the meantime, she sparks up a new romance with Damien (Reynolds) while still navigating her semi-tumultuous relationship with her roommate (Ryan). When her hallucinatory dreamscape starts to intrude on her real life, she dives down the investigatory rabbit hole into her family history. Results vary...

“I have the rainbow sprinkles with the cone. Every time I talk it’s a fucking poem…” – Actual rap lyric from Sarah’s roommate’s boyfriend (Jake Picking)

The first half of this film really had me invested. Sarah was a well-conceived and well-
written character that I felt for. I can easily identify with the type of person that religiously pauses whatever they’re watching when others enter the room. Seriously, I’m not trying to be rude. I just want you to leave me alone now… She’s sweet and goofy, awkward but not reclusive or abrasive in the least. I think my favorite moments were the organic and clumsy courtship scenes between her and Damien. The film was at its best when it was being silly, hinting at more. But every bit of positivity shown in the earlier parts are tainted by an unsettling and heartbreaking sense of dread.

The overall construct of the genre bends here is quite unique. The comedic elements don’t do much to soften the tone because the sense of impeding doom is so strong. The supernatural/sci-fi/psychological thriller aspects of the film reminded me of things like Panos Cosmotos’ BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, with a tiny dash of Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN. This is especially true in the constantly shifting score. From scene to scene, we range from bouncy synth-pop to ominous strings. Rather than inform, these shifts sometimes seem only to confuse and conflate the tone. A lot of films are ambiguous about how literally we’re supposed to interpret what we see. But here, it’s hard to tell how seriously we’re even supposed to take the story. The aforementioned doom that we’re dreading is always present, but often undercut by the films humorous tone. But by the third act however, this playfulness between themes begins to tread into very uncomfortable territory.

As Sarah’s grip on reality becomes increasingly loose, the story dives deeper into her paranoia. Always shrewdly switching between the hints of supernatural and mental health explanations.  Brie’s performance is more believable, the less seriously I take her. She’s a fantastic comedic actor. But I found she had trouble expecting the audience to follow her mood shifts. To be clear, although I had trouble with this, I think this may actually be specifically what the film is going for. On one hand, it may have been making the case to take a more realistic look at the still overused ‘manic-pixie’ character. Unfortunately, it may have simultaneously undercut the significance of real mental health issues.

In its cleverness, I am a bit concerned that this film lacks the sensitivity and nuance that may be required to tackle this type of topic. At times, I was seriously bothered by how glib the entire first act was in setting up what was supposed to be a heavily weighted conclusion. But even as I write this, I’m not sure if I’m properly arriving at the filmmaker’s intention. And maybe that’s my point. As much as this film has going for it, I was disappointed that it seemed much more content in endlessly circling multiple interpretations, loosely wound around mixed themes and genres, than it was in expressing any sort of tangible truth.

In summary, there’s plenty enough good here to outweigh the bad. But don’t be surprised if it leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

Emery’s Rating
3 out of 5 Stars

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