Review: Black Bear (Sundance 2020)


Title: Black Bear
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon
Runtime: 1 hr 44 mins

What It Is: Allison (Plaza) is a writer/director and former actress. Welcomed by the flirtatious Gabe (Abbott) and his pregnant girlfriend Blair (Gadon) to her new cabin in the middle of the woods, Allison searches for something worth doing amongst existing alongside the awkward couple.

What We Think: Holy fucking shit.

Don’t look too hard into the description. Don’t go to any movie site or database. Don’t even bother looking up any trailers. GO. IN. COLD. That’s the only way to see this movie and experience it in full. I don’t even know how to really review a lot of aspects about this film without spoiling it–that’s how fragile this is. You have no idea what you get into: make sure it stays that way. It is not the movie you think it is.

It’s frustrating how much I need/want to say about this film, about how much I felt, about how much of an emotional and malfunctioning fool I was left once leaving the theater. It keeps you in the dark, leaving you the pieces to pull together on your own. And that is its complete, transparent intention. One of the most intelligent films I’ve seen in a long, long time–this film will manipulate you, shamelessly. Reincorporation goes from repetitive to utterly brilliant. I felt everything you could really feel watching a movie, one that you will encounter as simply a “drama” at face value. I was angry, I was hateful, bored, shocked, confused. I felt trapped, a Stockholm hostage. The performances are tricky and strange like the story itself–magnetic and hypnotizing as always, Aubrey Plaza is absolutely raw. She leads you through a spinning, woven story that’s always at least one step ahead of you. You’re constantly forced to keep following with a certain paranoia, fearful of what’s ahead or behind. It’s stressful, it’s dark–despite its lighter, chuckle-worthy moments, I was not laughing. It felt really personal, really psychological; its thesis as a whole angling a mirror on the capability of storytelling and the thought process itself within the worldview of the twisted psyche of the creator. I left the theater drained and shaking and in a daze. During the film, I was even holding back tears to a point (had I been watching it by myself I probably would have broken). I love this fucked up rabbit hole of a movie. Part disaster, tragedy and psychological drama (black comedy, even), this nightmare within a dream is something to sit on whenever you think about the movies. It’s not hard to understand despite its tendency to toy with reality and showcase the power of imagery and the morbid fascination with utter human dysfunction. The longer it goes on, the better it gets, following and manifesting something much more internal rather than external. This strides within the genre of existentialism yet is somehow much more niche. It is one of the best presentations of dissecting films, art, and ideas; it’s more meta than I’d like to admit to myself. It’s obvious I was especially very personally affected by the film, its creative structure, and the subject matter, making me both very uncomfortable and at the same time confrontational with the self. On a neural level, I somehow found myself within this movie. I could relate to it, I could relate to the darkest settings the character was put through, and then realizing that I could also reflect upon the forces mandating all the disorder.

Our Grade: A+, Mind-boggling. Could you tell I attempted at being as vague as possible? It was difficult. But you kind of have to trust me on this–at least until you’ve gotten through the whole film. Then, have the opinions you do, but this is one of the most incredible releases I’ve seen in a long while. That being said, it definitely has Sundance beat. Literally, I feel like there’s little else here for me–I’ve seen the best the festival has to offer, period. I’m not kidding. Watch it for Aubrey, watch it for the cast, watch it for a nice little mindfuck (if you’re into that). I’m getting redundant, but I just adore this stylized, strange, and realized dark fantasy. It was painful to watch: disorienting, formidable–an almost sinister level of awesome. It is so good. Honestly, at least for now, I can’t see this weird, extremely dark, and occasionally playful meditation being anything other than perfect.

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