Robin Blassberg A&E Editor
On Feb. 7, Netflix released “Horse Girl” starring Alison Brie, John Reynolds, Debby Ryan, Molly Shannon, and John Ortiz. Brie also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Jeff Baena, who was also a director and producer. The film follows sweet but naive Sarah (Alison Brie) as her mental health rapidly deteriorates.
Sarah is a socially awkward young woman who leads a quiet life. She enjoys her job at a craft store and talking to the motherly figure she works with, Joan (Molly Shannon). Each day after work, she visits her horse, Willow, although it visibly annoys Willow’s caretakers and takes a Zumba class. She then goes home and faithfully watches her favorite supernatural crime show, “Purgatory,” which features cameos from Matthew Gray Gubler as Darren Colt and Robin Tunney as Agatha Kaine. This routine concerns Sarah’s roommate, Nikki (Debby Ryan), and on Sarah’s birthday, when Sarah is sitting alone on the couch of their apartment, Nikki decides to take matters into her own hands. Nikki declares she is inviting her boyfriend, Brian’s roommate, Darren over, and they are going to celebrate.
Although awkward at first, Darren and Sarah hit it off. She listens eagerly, their knees intertwined, as Darren details his past failed relationship, as drink after drink is consumed. The tone of the movie seems to veer towards light-hearted and content with the promise of new love, but the next morning proves this is far from the truth. Waking up to finding scratches on the walls that she does not remember leaving is the first stage of the nightmare her life becomes.
From here, Sarah begins to suffer through weird occurrences, such as frequent bloody noses, random bruising on her sides, and time loss. These prompt her to start researching on and she finds information on cloning and alien abductions, and decides this may be the cause of her woes, especially because of how similar she looks to her grandmother. One night, while on a date with Darren, she tells him all this, and he cuts ties with her. She also begins to hear voices that are not there, see people that she has seen in dreams in real life, and sleepwalk. After stripping nude at work with no memory of how she got there, she is admitted into a psychiatric hospital. She is discharged after 72 hours, despite only remembering 24 of them. Once home, she steals Willow, dresses in her grandmother’s dress, lies in a meadow, and levitates toward the sky. The movie then ends.
This movie is not for everyone. It does not follow a typical beginning, middle, end, sequence and will definitely cause confusion while watching. At some points, since Sarah seems to lucid dream often, it can be hard to follow what is happening, what is real, and what is a dream. The film’s highest achievements come in the form of the visuals. The long, lingering shots characteristic of many of the scenes leave viewers feeling as if they are in a dream state. The visuals also remind me of shots in “Hereditary,” the 2018 drama. During the psychotic break, for lack of a better term, Sarah’s faces after being discharged from the hospital, she seems to walk into her dream as an outside perspective. These moments are full of unique and interesting visuals, especially the glowing ramp elevated over the ocean. Brie’s performance is also very strong and she conveys a character not typically seen well.
However, despite these strong suits, the movie does have its faults. Some additions feel meaningless, such as Nikki’s boyfriend Brian’s character. During Sarah’s birthday celebration, he is shown forcing his own music on everyone. While this does act as comic relief, because the music is ridiculous, the inclusion of it is never explained further. Also, the movie overall seems a little lost in the message it is trying to convey. At first, it can be said it is a take on the failing mental health system in America, but it can also be said that it is purely a piece of science fiction and Sarah really was abducted at the end. Overall, watch “Horse Girl” if you want your brain to hurt.