Film: Horse Girl

A Netflix original film, Horse Girl (2020) is an esoteric piece with an indie look and quirky tone. While the film left me ambivalent, it’s ultimately a compelling watch, due primarily to a convincing, deep-dive lead performance from Alison Brie. She portrays Sarah, a soft-spoken woman who lives a simple, unassuming life. Sarah works at a crafts store, gets along with her coworker Joan (Molly Shannon), and has an amiable enough acquaintanceship with her roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan). But there’s not much going on in her life, and an obvious sadness in her past. When Nikki whips up an impromptu birthday party for her, things start to look up: she hits it off with Darren (John Reynolds), a nice guy who also happens to share the name of a character on her favorite science fiction show, Purgatory. But then odd, inexplicable things start happening to her: sleepwalking, aural hallucinations, gaps in her memory. Is something science fictional happening, or is she succumbing to the mental illness that runs in her family?

If nothing else, Horse Girl keeps you guessing as to the answer to that question. I’m not sure it satisfactorily resolves the issue, though, and at times the manner in which it leverages Sarah’s mental health problems in service to story felt a little uncomfortable. But it deserves points for intriguing execution, and for serving as a showcase for Brie, who delivers a sympathetic, all-in performance. Within its occasionally problematic story machinations, there are eyebrow-raising turns and a haunting emotional verisimilitude. It doesn’t fire on every cylinder, but it definitely holds interest.

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