Horse Girl (2020)
Director: jeff baena | runtime: 103mins | drama
Socially awkward Sarah (Alison Brie) lives her life around her simple pleasures of arts and crafts, supernatural TV shows and her old horse. While navigating her somewhat lonely lifestyle, she begins to suffer from paranoia and lucid dreaming.
In the current climate tackling mental health is a welcome sight in a film, and Netflix’s newest feature Horse Girl attempts to do it in indie fashion. Written and directed by Jeff Baena (and co-written by star Alison Brie), the film finds it’s feet in a mental plummet that tackles the spiralling impact mental health can have. Compared to Netflix’s most recent efforts among award season though, it seems Horse Girl might not reach the highest peak of the company’s catalogue. But luckily for Baena, he has a wonderful Alison Brie leading the charge.
The filmy quickly finds all the defining qualities of it’s character, her job at an arts and crafts store, the fictional supernatural detective show she watches religiously and of course her horse that she often goes to visit. All these things are a staple of Sarah’s personality, and once the downfall begins they become an integral part of the surreal visual the film is making. Visions of the actors in her show and the horses involvement in the films ending do so much for the film keeping within it’s world, and that’s why it’s representation should be applauded. Accompanied by some interesting cinematography as well, Sarah’s spiral is simultaneously contained and out of control, and it’s allows for you to, not completely follow, but incoherently recognise what’s happening.
As Sarah’s mental state deteriorates at a faster and faster level, Brie gets more and more impressive, losing any shed of comedic atmosphere and really pushing her character to it’s most emotional and layered.
Brie’s rise to greatness has been a steady one, but truthfully she’s never looked so good. The closest comparison you have to another of her roles is probably her turn in Community (2009-2015) as Annie, who (for comedic purposes) was a shy and quaint girl with a deep-rooted tendency for going off the rails. Brie embodies that kind of uncomfortable stance whoever she is sharing the screen with, using her character to create a wholesome person who’s inevitable fall from sanity is neither expected or wanted by anyone. But as Sarah’s mental state deteriorates at a faster and faster level, Brie gets more and more impressive, losing any shed of comedic atmosphere and really pushing her character to it’s most emotional and layered.
The biggest problem the film has is in it’s ambiguity, and while it’s never a sin to leave things unresolved, it seems that Horse Girl struggles to give reason for some of it’s side characters. In particular, a plumbing company owner by the name of Ron (played by John Ortiz) who frequents Sarah’s dreams. When she initially sees Ron in the car park outside her store, it seems as though it will go somewhere, but after a couple of meetings and the lengthy stays outside his house, he quickly becomes forgotten among the other things happening at the same time. Along with Ron the film does lack a few filled-out characters but for the most part everyone excels and has something to either benefit or go against Sarah, which is another win in the films favour.
Other than a few characters lacking depth and also the films climax on the cusp of disorientating, Horse Girl is a wonderful examination in it’s own right, taking it’s time to build it’s world and main character in order to successfully sell it’s third act. With subtle questions asked of her sanity from the get-go, Alison Brie manages to find those small ticks early on all while finding a level of genuineness, and if you really can’t figure out what’s going on you’ll still feel sympathy for Sarah, and that seems like an adequate portrayal of today’s mental health.