black bear | lawrence michael levine | aubrey plaza | sarah gadon | christopher abbott | nightmares film festival | nff | better horror | psychological | drama | lindsay burdge | alexander koch | paola lazaro | jennifer kim | shannon o'neill | grantham coleman
Film: Black Bear
Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Writer: Lawrence Michael Levine
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott
This was the final film to become available as part of the Nightmares Film Festival for 2020. Both Jaime and I were intrigued to see Aubrey Plaza starred in this movie. We both came in pretty blind aside from that. The synopsis here a filmmaker at a creative impasses seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways.
We start this off with an image that we will come back to a few times. It is of Allison (Plaza) in a one piece, red bathing suit. She gets up and walks into the cabin behind her, going up to a room where she has a journal on the table.
The movie is then told in two different chapters. The first one is the bear in the road. Allison shows up where she’s met at the gate by Gabe (Christopher Abbott). He’s there with his girlfriend of Blair (Sarah Gadon). She is currently pregnant and supposed to be on bed rest. There are some issues between them, which seems to be he’s controlling and she is fed up with him. Regardless, they’re still together.
This place belongs to Gabe’s family. Their goal is to convert it into a retreat for their creative friends. Blair was a dancer and Gabe is a musician. Neither is currently working though. Allison is a former actress and is a director. Gabe seemed to have done some checking up on her before she got there and his assessments seem to be off. Or at least that’s what Allison states.
The night doesn’t go as planned. The couple keeps bickering and Allison in her awkward fashion says things that upset Blair. She goes up to go to bed where Allison decides to go swimming in her underwear. Blair accused Gabe of wanting to sleep with her, which he tries to convince that is not the case. He is lying though and Blair catches them in the act. Things get worse from there.
We then shift over to chapter two, which is the bear by the boathouse. We get some of the same images and shots, but this time around Allison is an actress. Gabe is directing a movie and Blair is the co-star. The events follow very similar paths, with just the roles of the women have changed. This version of the events leads Allison down a very dark path, but the question becomes, is this real?
That's where I want to leave my recap for this as I do feel that gets you up to what you need to know for this movie. Now of course, one of the reasons that I was excited to see this movie was for the fact that it starred Plaza. Her performance is really good in this movie and it is interesting that knowing her early work I wouldn’t expect some of the things that she is able to do. That's not to say I thought she was a bad actress, but when you see someone in specific roles for some time, there is a bit of a typecast.
Where I should start this is that this is another movie where I don’t know if most people would consider this a horror film or not. It really isn’t in the traditional sense. What we do have here though is this extreme feel of awkwardness and dread. There are a couple of horrific things that also happen that push it closer. It is at least adjunct so that is why I’m covering it here.
What really stuck out to me here for sure is the fact that this is uncomfortable. There are a few movies I’ve seen at this same festival for this viewing that really embody that as well. What makes it funny though is the fact that Plaza does this so well in the role of Allison. From the opening sequence where she meets Gabe, he is asking her questions and she’s saying to make it awkward. It is even funnier though when it turns out that he’s right. Things get even weirder when we introduce Blair into the dynamic.
From that sequence I’ve brought up, I could feel the chemistry between Allison and Gabe. Blair notices it as well, even though he tries to convince her that is not the case. This really drives this first chapter, even more is that Allison makes things worse siding with him. She is doing it as a joke and it doesn’t help that Blair comes off not only crazy, but also a bit too much as a militant feminist where it is hard to side with her. It does almost feel like she is driving Gabe away and into the arms of Allison. Gabe brings up that he doesn’t think she actually loves him and I believe it. It is a toxic relationship that has run its course with both parties no longer really have love for each other, but stay together as it has been for so long and they’re comfortable.
The second chapter plays with similar things, but does things differently. I don’t want to delve too much here as not a lot of people upon reading this probably haven’t had the chance to watch yet. What I will say, I do really like that they're playing with the same actors and characters, but twisting it. This is really where I think we see the range of Plaza. What I can say is that Allison is married to Gabe where she is suspecting that Blair and him are having an affair. We get very similar things that happened previously happening here, just subbing in the woman differently. Things go a bit differently though with the reactions and here, a movie is being made. I have a theory what is going on here, but again, I’ll keep that to myself until it is a bit more widely seen.
Since I’ve been going on and on with it, I want to move to the acting. I’ve already said that I think Plaza steals the show here. This is her movie and really carries it. What I would say is that in the first chapter, Allison is the third wheel for the marital problems there. Abbott and Gadon play well there with just her making it worse. Where she takes off is in the second chapter, with again these other two helping progress the events. There are other actors there as well as there are more characters, which help to round out for what is needed.
So with that said here, I don’t really have much more that I want to delve into with this movie. This really is driven by the acting as well as the situation that they are in. The telling of it in two chapters is quite interesting, since they are different while being very similar still. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but it also doesn’t need them. What we do get there was practical and looked good. The cinematography is well done, as this is a beautifully shot movie. It framed well. Aside from that, the soundtrack fit for what was needed. It didn’t necessarily stand out, but it also didn’t need to. Overall I would say that this won’t be for everyone. It is more of a slow-burn and feels similar to something like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It is also another one that many not consider horror. For me, I think it is mostly the imposing feeling of dread and the effect it has to drive these people mad is enough for me. I found this to be a good movie overall and would actually recommend to horror and non-horror fans alike.
My Rating: 8 out of 10