Subhash K Jha reviews the Netflix Japanese film Horse Girl. Read it here.

Review of Netflix film Horse Girl: Disturbing depiction of descent into dementia

Starring Alison Brie

Directed by Jeff Baena

Rating: *** ½ (3and a half stars)

Watching an individual lose her mind in front of your eyes is not a pleasant experience. The exceptionally talented Alison Brie, for long in search of a movie vehicle that would do justice to her presence, here co-produces and co-writes a film that is deeply connected to her own life. Like her character Sarah, Alison Brie has a family history of mental illness.

She is able to project the terror of an oncoming mental breakdown with such ferocious authenticity that I felt I was reluctantly being sucked into her despair.

Unlike other films on mental illness Horse Girl neither sanitizes nor psychedelices the protagonist’s mindset. The approach to the gathering storm of a mental meltdown is very real, and therefore exceedingly frightening. Ms Brie imbues Sarah’s descent into a muddled hell with distinct clarity.

And then of course, the writing takes care of the rest. Sarah’s casual normal chat with her kind workplace friend (Molly Shanon) leads the narrative into a tunnel of growing darkness. Sarah’s date with a clean-cut, kindhearted, somewhat boring guy (John Reynolds) preludes Sarah’s descent into dementia. From here on, we have no clarity as to the authenticity of what we see. Even when institutionalized, Sarah continues to play mind games with herself and with the audiences.

Are the incidents shown in the film really happening? Or is that Sarah’s imagination? As she descends into a rambling mess of dreams, delusions and dementia, she chills us to the bone. Ms Brie’s transformative performance is a marvel of Nature.

But there is more to this stark and disturbing than meets the eye. The characters around Sara attain a semi-dream quality because of her precarious, plummeting mental health. Are we to trust any of the people and encounters that we see her going through? Or could she have made it all up? Even the psycho-therapist she is seen pouring her heart to, does he really exist?

Horse Girl goes deep into its protagonist’s psyche end emerges with a melancholic, but light-toned meditation on reality and its opposite. Who knows which option we select? At the end of the day, reality and fantasy are long-lost siblings waiting for us to mistake one for the other. By the end, the alien invasion that Sarah keeps rambling about seems to be really happening.

Too far gone to turn back, Horse Girl makes loneliness and depression seem like crimes we commit on ourselves in pursuit of a meaningful life. This is not a pleasant film to watch. But it enriches us in ways that we may not want to be enriched.

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