Julien Neaves, Editor
So I’m scrolling through my Netflix looking for something to watch (#thestruggleisreal) and I come across 2020 film Horse Girl. By the title it sounds like a heartwarming, coming-of-age drama about a girl who loves and rides horses. It’s not. And then you see three actresses best known for comedy—Community’s Alison Brie, SNL’s Molly Shannon, and Debby Ryan from Disney Channel’s Jessie—and you think it’s a lighthearted romcom about a girl who loves and rides horses. Definitely not. Horse Girl is actually a mind-bending psychological thriller and the kind of film that keeps rattling around in your brain after the credits have rolled. And yes, there is a girl and a horse that she loves and is shown riding. So there’s that too.
Brie stars as Sarah, an introverted young woman who works as a salesperson at a clothing store, is obsessed with a Supernatural-esque TV show called Purgatory, and hangs around a horse stable to keep tabs on her former horse Willow from her childhood. Sarah’s unremarkable life takes a turn for the worse when she starts having disturbing dreams, begins losing time, and comes to the conclusion that she is a pawn in an alien conspiracy. The screenplay was co-written by Brie and “based on real-life family history with paranoid schizophrenia and depression, as well as her resulting fears about her own psychology” (vulture.com). It is directed, co-written, and co-produced by Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, The Little Hours, I Heart Huckabees).
I know Brie from her work as perky student Annie Edison in the aforementioned Community and as the voice of writer and intellectual Diane Nguyen in the critically acclaimed animated comedy series BoJack Horseman. I am a fan of both performances and I also got to see some of her dramatic work in her supporting role in the fantastic Promising Young Woman. But Horse Girl is my first time seeing Brie as a dramatic lead and my, oh my, she had me glued to the screen with this expertly layered and nuanced performance. Brie has to carry the film as she is the sun around which the other characters revolve, and does so with confidence. The other performances are all strong but this is her film to make or break, and she definitely makes it. And Sarah is such a sweet and likeable character that you really want to see her have some kind of happiness even when you see everything falling apart around her.
Together with Brie’s excellent performance is a twisty script and some truly striking, surreal imagery, including some that dip a toe right into horror. There are several moments when you will question Sarah’s sanity and whether what you are seeing is real or a delusion. And with the protagonist being such an unreliable narrator it makes it doubly hard. But is Sarah insane or is she actually the victim of extraterrestrial machinations? Or both? The film is ambiguous enough to allow for multiple interpretations, but I have my own theory which I won’t share here as I am keeping things spoiler free.
But whatever the actual truth, one thing for sure is that Horse Girl is a very well-told film and one of the best explorations of mental illness I have seen put to screen. And I will be adding it to my list of great mind-bending movie which includes Brazil, Donnie Darko, and Mulholland Drive.
Editor Jules’s Score: 8.5 out of 10
So what’s your favourite mind-bending movie? For more brain-twisting films you can check out Featured Writer Alice’s review of I’m Thinking of Ending Things by clicking here. Or for Senior Writer Sommer’s review of Black Bear you can click here.
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. I can also be found posting about TV and movie memes, news and trailers on Facebook at Movieville. And to stay on top of all Redmangoreviews articles you can like and follow us on Facebook here.