Flashing coloured lights, an ominous score and an intense and tear-stained performance by a small ensemble cast make Amy Seimetz’s second feature a frustrating and memorable experience. Its seemingly prescient exploration of a pandemic of belief has many nuances that reflect current social crises.
There is not a lot of narrative in this somewhat experimental feature. As far as it goes, young 30-something Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) wanders her new home, desperate and distraught. When her friend Jane (Jane Adams) answers her plea for help, she finds her disconnected from reality, insisting that she will die tomorrow. We suspect that Amy is suffering from a mental illness – maybe anxiety or depression or a psychotic break – an assumption that is backed up by Jane’s disapproval of her drinking and the acknowledgement of her alcoholism.
So far, so normal, except for the dramatic classical music piece Amy plays over and over again, a camera that occasionally drifts out of focus, those flashing coloured lights and glimpses of visceral imagery and disconnected scenes. The pace is slow but the feel is dreamlike rather than leaden. It reminded me of Mother! (2017) in its hyper-vivid, sensory overload and the growing suspicion that you are watching a purposefully-crafted allegory.
Where it starts to spiral away is when Jane starts to exhibit the same symptoms as Amy; when the coloured lights flash, you know it’s spreading. We meet a handful of interesting though superficial characters, and I suspect they are deliberate archetypes, such as Jane’s brother Jason (Chris Messina) and sister-in-law Susan (Katie Aselton) representing what is great and terrible about family. Dialogue is stilted and transected by disconcerting visuals and sound. Scenes that could be flashback or dreams give us tantalising information that promises to provide a depth to the narrative and then doesn’t.
There are a few themes that this film could be about. Its key motifs are an existential sense of doom and the virulence of negative thought. At first it seems to be about mental illness, with Amy’s psychosis and hopelessness denied by those around her but then acknowledged with such empathy, they experience it too. Then as the virus of existential thought spreads, it might be about the slow realisation of the climate crisis as each person understands that we have gone too far and the planet is doomed. But there are also echoes of the panic that has spread with coronavirus, where negative thoughts and false information is absorbed and multiplied, spreading more quickly than the virus.
Although there is strength in the ambiguity that Seimetz propagates – it prompts us to questions and ponder and debate – I was left feeling unsatisfied. There is little sense of a narrative arc, even though it could be argued that our protagonist reaches a small but important moment in her psychological journey by the suitably understated and ambiguous ending.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.