Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr Andrew Semans
prd Tory Lenosky, Alex Scharfman, Drew Houpt, Lars Knudsen, Tim Headington, Lia Buman
with Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Grace Kaufman, Michael Esper, Angela Wong Carbone, Josh Dean Drennen, Rosemary Howard, Winsome Brown, Jaime Zevallos, Owen Johnson, Jackson Finnegan, Zarra Kaahn
release UK Jun.22 slf,
US 5.Aug.22
22/US Universal 1h43

roth kaufman esper
Sundance london film fest

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Aside from being grisly and creepy, there isn't much to this bonkers dramatic horror, which sends a woman on a nightmarishly symbolic journey into maternal guilt and paranoia. It's strikingly well-played by Rebecca Hall and an ace supporting cast, and writer-director Andrew Semans keeps the surreal nastiness churning from start to finish. But it's never quite as meaningful or provocative as he seems to think it is.
At an Albany biotech company, Margaret (Hall) has her life together, offering sage advice to her intern (Carbone) while having a satisfying affair with married colleague Peter (Esper). And her smart 17-year-old daughter Abbie (Kaufman) is about head to university. Then Margaret spots her abusive old boyfriend David (Roth) lurking around town, and her world begins to crumble. Stalking him and exchanging threats, she worries that she'll get sucked back into his orbit, while he persists that their infant son is still alive inside him. Clearly she needs to escape him for good this time.
Intriguing ideas churn everywhere for Margaret, who struggles with letting Abbie out of her sight. Of course Abbie worries about her mom's sanity, even reaching out to Peter to stage an intervention. But Semans continually reminds us of Margaret's unstable mental state as she stubbornly takes on David and faces properly gruesome nightmares about her past. There are elements of post-traumatic stress in here, as well as post-partum depression, but the script mainly uses these as horror elements.

Hall gives a fully committed performance as a woman who disintegrates before our eyes. Her descent into wild-eyed obsession is played viscerally, and Margaret's haunted expressions provide many of the films best jolts. Hall also strikes up some prickly chemistry with Kaufman, Esper and Carbone in a range of beefy scenes. Meanwhile, her confrontations with Roth's eerily confident, offhanded David are properly chilling, providing a glimpse into their twisted codependent relationship and his insidiously controlling ways. And Hall hints that maybe Margaret wasn't as innocent as she claims she was.

The film is slickly shot and edited to maximise the intensity, creating a gnawing suspense while hinting that just about anything is possible. But the nuttiest elements in the narrative seem to be so carefully signposted that any deeper complexity is lost along the way. And while there's an overt female empowerment message at work here, the film also seems to be saying that emotional pain can make a woman delusional and dangerous.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 8.Jun.22 slf

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall