The Mountain

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Mountain
dir Rick Alverson
scr Rick Alverson, Dustin Guy Defa, Colm O'Leary
prd Eddy Moretti, Allison Rose Carter, Sara Murphy, Ryan Zacarias
with Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Denis Lavant, Hannah Gross, Udo Kier, Annemarie Lawless, Eleonore Hendricks, Margot Klein, Larry Fessenden, Lowell Hutcheson, Alyssa Bresnahan, Adam John Daveline
release US 26.Jul.19
18/US 1h49

goldblum lavant lier

sheridan and goldblum
From the opening shot, it's clear this is an unusual, challenging film, entangling perception with emotion. Set in a muted 1950s Middle America, director-cowriter Rick Alverson casts a spell on the audience using surreal, offbeat imagery within a narrative that's personal and involving. There are hints of David Lynch and Yorgos Lanthimos everywhere, but Alverson creates his own reverberations.
After his father (Kier) dies, shattered 20-something Andy (Sheridan) meets Wallace (Goldblum), a doctor who treated his brain-damaged mother. He offers Andy a job assisting him on the road as he performs invasive brain procedures on mental patients. Andy struggles with the grisliness he documents with a Polaroid camera, and he wonders aloud where the people go after Wallace's treatment leaves them in a dulled-zombie state. Andy also tries to understand various women he meets along the way, including Susan (Gross), daughter of one of Wallace's more colourful patients (Lavant).
Vividly designed by Jacqueline Abrahams, there's a stunning range of textures in each setting. The striking cinematography by Lorenzo Hagerman traps the actors within the frame (often frames within frames), while Robert Donne's mournful score seems to echo Andy's soul. And the often random dialog is hesitant and often almost whispered, which makes it seem like it's full of mystery and intrigue. Indeed, this is the kind of movie a viewer leans into, searching for clues even as the emotions resonate.

Goldblum is tailor-made for this, adapting his larger-than-life persona to a character who is both kind and sinister. He conveys this enigma magnetically. Opposite him, the remarkable Sheridan seems afraid to look at what Wallace is doing, but he also can't look away. Andy's slow-burn "awakening" is packed with understated intensity, with his yearning for clarity rippling quietly across Sheridan's face, accompanied by startling mind's eye cutaways. Side roles for offbeat maestros like Lavant and Kier add wonderfully to the film's texture.

As the journey progresses, sparks of energy and humour emerge, and colour begins to seep into sets and costumes. This offers a hint into Alverson's intentions, tracing Andy's voyage from childhood into grief and exploration. Even more than that, the film is exploring the ramifications of mental illness at a time when new techniques were challenging traditional opinions. Yes, this is a period in which America's values were being shaken to the core, and the film suggests that maybe that core wasn't as helthy as we like to remember.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 23.Jul.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall