Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Horse Girl, or: Surrounded by Neigh-Sayers

It’s never a bad thing to see more films written and directed by women, especially during Feminist February. This week’s pick stars and was co-written by Netflix legend Alison Brie (of GLOW, BoJack, and the show we don’t talk about on Netflix, Community). Qualification for Feminist February met. Qualification for fun evening of light entertainment? Er…very much dependent on your definition of fun.

The Film:

Horse Girl

The Premise:

A familial history of mental illness and increasingly paranoid conspiracy theories take over the life of a quiet craft store employee and horse enthusiast.

The Ramble:

A quiet woman who keeps to herself, Sarah is a craft store employee by day, obsessive fan of the TV show Purgatory by night, and lover of horses at all hours. Though she is friendly with boss Molly Shannon and roommate Nikki, Sarah prefers to keep some distance between herself and others. At any given moment, it seems Sarah would much rather be spending time with the horse she used to ride or with her favorite TV characters.

Two women stand inside next to a store window, wearing light blue apron uniforms over their everyday clothes.

When her birthday shakes her out of the usual routine, Sarah meets Darren, a friend of Nikki’s boyfriend. Both Sarah and Darren are rather awkward, with Darren droning on incessantly about concept albums and his horrible ex. Sarah, meanwhile, has been experiencing more and more strange symptoms–one of which is a nosebleed during their date. But Darren thinks Sarah is cute, and Sarah considers his name–shared with one of the lead characters of Purgatory–a sign that they’re meant to be.

After drinking too much and throwing up, Sarah has a strange dream in which she’s lying in a white room, two people sleeping on either side of her. When she wakes up the next morning, there are strange scratches on the walls, though Sarah has no recollection of how they got there.

A man and woman sit close together in a small, dimly lit dining area, facing each other from separate dining chairs.

Odd incidents begin happening more frequently during Sarah’s waking and dreaming life. Her car is stolen and, when it is found, the facts don’t quite add up. The key is in the car’s ignition, and the steering wheel lock sits unlocked on the passenger seat. Worried about the increasing number of times Sarah is forgetting things, she fears the mental illnesses that overtook her mother and grandmother’s lives may affect her too.

The alternative explanation that Sarah begins to embrace is that she is losing time due to alien abduction, and her vivid dreams are not dreams at all. Because she looks so much like her grandmother, Sarah begins to believe she is a clone created by aliens. When she sees the man from her dream in real life, Sarah becomes convinced her theory is the truth and is obsessed with tracking him down. She even goes as far as hiring his company to do unnecessary pipe replacement and follows him to his home one evening.

A woman in a dark room looks down. She is covered from head to toe in a light pink outfit that covers everything except for her face.

When she meets Darren for another date, Sarah begins explaining her theories to him, and their discussion turns more broadly to conspiracies. It’s only when Sarah shows Darren her mother’s grave and tells him they need to dig her up to compare their DNA that he realizes how deeply she believes in her own conspiracy theories.

After performing a series of rituals at home to trick the aliens, Sarah wanders into the craft store completely naked. She is taken into a psychiatric care facility, but only becomes more convinced that she’s been right all along during her stay there, and less able to distinguish between reality and dreams. Will psychiatric care help Sarah be well at this point…and does she even want to?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

Alison Brie deserves so much credit for this role–as with many of the characters she plays, here a seemingly innocuous person is more complex and disturbed than she initially appears. Brie makes Sarah a sympathetic character whose odd behavior at the beginning of the film merely scratches the surface on the delusions and feelings she experiences later. And the extreme thoughts and feelings Sarah has are out of touch with reality, but they never feel laughable–they are unquestionably real to her.

This concept is what makes the film so compelling, and at times scary to watch. It’s very interested in asking to what extent biology is destiny: does the mental illness or trauma we inherit from our families predict our own dysfunction? And, perhaps more importantly, what does it mean to manage mental illness? Sarah’s delusions seem to give her a sense of real conviction for the first time in her life. It seems likely that her dedication to the show Purgatory and need for her life to have some sort of narrative structure plays a role in her willingness to believe in her own version of reality. But would her DNA have led her down the same path regardless?

The film itself can be difficult to follow at times, as its structure is somewhat loose, and uses this to blur the lines between dream and reality (and, honestly, the tone is quite wonky as well). This quality does keep things interesting as we continue to hope Sarah can heal; however, it’s increasingly impossible to imagine an ending in which she finds both peace and clarity. I feel fairly certain this film will haunt anyone who has experienced mental illness.

Would my blog wife don matching alien-proof body suits with this one or run away while it’s distracted with a marathon of Ancient Aliens? Read her review here to find out!

TV Reviews

The End of an Era: Thoughts on the BoJack Horseman Finale

*Spoilers for BoJack Horseman season 6 below*

After a season 5 that didn’t thrill me, I confess the announcement that season 6 would be BoJack‘s last didn’t shock me. Beyond a vague annoyance about the splitting of the season into two parts, I didn’t feel particularly upset.

However, once the last few episodes were released on Netflix, I felt eager to dig in even as a sense of dread nestled in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, the animated show about an alcoholic, self-destructive former sitcom star (who happens to have the head of a horse and body of a human) has become one of my absolute favorites, and its finale really does seem to mark the end of an era. How did that happen?

One thing that sets the show apart is its surreal quality that reflects a deeply cynical reality; one that its creators clearly care about despite its profound flaws. The characters embody this spirit; it’s frequently very difficult to like the show’s protagonists. In fact, they consistently do things that disappoint me and remind me of my own shortcomings.

Though many of the characters are part animal, they feel authentically human. All of them are broken characters stumbling along blindly in a destructive industry. Sometimes they get better, sometimes worse. While there is hope at the beginning of season 6 that BoJack’s stint in rehab will set him on the right track, recovery–from alcoholism, mental illness, trauma–is not a linear path. As has been the case throughout the series, a singular action, or even a pattern, does not in itself indicate progress. There’s a constant back-and-forth as the characters and their circumstances change, but the show meanders with purpose.

A cartoon hybrid of a horse and man sits at the end of an elaborate dining room table, seated between a young woman and an elegantly dressed horse/woman.

What is both refreshing and troubling about this season is its focus on accountability. For the entirety of its run, BoJack has been interested in the tension in exploring a frequently toxic character’s inner workings. Having spent 6 years with BoJack and the characters who fall in and out of his orbit, understanding his motivations and his own victimization makes us feel closer to him and perhaps more inclined to overlook his bad actions. Yet, increasingly, we feel BoJack should still face the consequences of his actions; not only from the desire to believe in a sort of divine justice, but also because it’s the only chance he has to truly grow as a character.

Based on the damage BoJack has caused in the past (most frequently to women), will it make a difference at this point?

While tapping into the story of BoJack specifically, the final season continues to speak more broadly to our obsession with celebrity, connecting it to the existential dread that permeates everything we do in a world where we must necessarily create our own meaning. Even (and perhaps especially) fame doesn’t save the show’s characters from emptiness, vulnerability, fear, and death.

The season also continues to explore the inherent contradictions involved with human connection. Relationships of all kinds represent a way to build meaning in a world that feels lacking in purpose. However, leaning on others often leaves the characters disappointed and vulnerable. And many of the characters who shaped each other in early seasons barely (or never) interact now. This season seeks to make peace with the idea that a relationship can resonate for years after it ends, and the ending isn’t necessarily a failure.

A cartoon woman sits at a kitchen table in front of a laptop, a man with a bison head next to her.

On a side note, I absolutely loved Diane’s story this season. I don’t always like Diane; I relate to her depression, feelings of inadequacy, and worry that she’s not doing enough to make the world a better place–perhaps to an insufferable degree. But I appreciate so much that Diane started taking anti-depressants, compromised her artistic vision, and gained weight in season 6 (which never happens onscreen except as a signifier that a woman has let herself go). And this marked progress for Diane, as well as some degree of happiness. Having her life together in some ways didn’t mean everything else magically fell into place.

Now it’s over–the show featuring a darkly comic (and catchy) song about killing babies, a show biz sell-out version of J.D. Salinger, intergenerational trauma that lives on long after the characters who experienced it have died, a petty auto-erotic asphyxiation scheme, and a fake future story line that existed just to break our hearts. It’s hard to say goodbye to such a clever, carefully written, and nuanced show that was simultaneously cynical and hopeful. BoJack responded perfectly to the world we live in, questioning the fictional and real toxic men who occupy so much of our time and attention. How can we move forward when we continue to rationalize awful behavior–especially when we use these same excuses to justify our own misdeeds?

As the final moments of the show approached, I felt both dread and comfort in the cyclical nature of its last scene. Diane sits alone on a roof, smoking. When BoJack seeks her out and they sit down for a heart-to-heart filled with banter, their future looks inevitable yet uncertain. That seems to be the show’s answer, to the extent it’s willing to provide one: the way to find meaning is by living through the cycle, and, paradoxically, the cycle doesn’t end, nor can we even pin down where it begins.

eight men and women are arranged in a row as they sing emotively
TV Reviews

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or: I’m Clearly Not Over You Yet

It’s the end of an era.  The last episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend aired on Friday, April 5:  an ep to conclude the show’s storyline and a live special filmed in LA.  I’m so pleased the show’s creators were able to bring things to a close on their own terms, but it’s still hard to let go.  While far from perfect, CEG is one of my favorite shows in recent memory, featuring a flawed heroine, a cast of memorable supporting characters, and messages about self-acceptance, mental health, sexuality, reproductive health, and the power of female friendship — all told through songs at once hilarious and heartfelt.  I’m going to miss this show.

I’ve seen so many lists ranking the best songs of the series, but this is impossible for me to do.  I’d still like to reflect on the songs and their importance to the show’s themes, so I’ll list some of my favorite songs by category instead.  Here we go!

Female solidarity

“Friendtopia” – the Spice Girls parody/tribute is incredible here, and I wish more songs about girl power involved literal revolutionary action.  Favorite lyric:  “When my friends and I stick together, there’s nothing we can’t do / And when I say that I specifically mean we’re gonna stage a coup.”

“Let’s Generalize About Men” – the fab ’80s style is everything to me, and I appreciate so much how the show crafts songs that support women while simultaneously calling them out.  Among other things, this song draws attention to the problematic gay best friend stereotype.  Favorite lyric:  “Gay men are all really great, every single one / They’re never mean, just sassy / They’re all completely adorable and fun.”

four women dressed in colorful 1980s style dress suits sing the words "Let's generalize about men"

“Women Gotta Stick Together” – while I’m glad Valencia stuck around as a character and experienced growth, I love her thoroughly bitchy early songs.  Though claiming to be about female solidarity, Valencia uses feminism here to remind others of their flaws, a smile pasted on her face throughout.  Favorite lyric: “Women have the power, the power to make a change / Like this girl should pluck her eyebrows, and those jeans should be exchanged.”

“Feelin’ Kinda Naughty” – the show is great at pointing out the creepy underpinnings of so many relationships.  While parodying the fetishization of lesbian relationships, CEG also highlights another way women can convince themselves their bad behavior is somehow female solidarity.  Favorite lyric:  “I want to kill you and wear your skin like a dress / But then also have you see me in that dress / And be like, ‘OMG, you look so cute in my skin.'”

Wallowing a little too hard at your own pity party

“You Stupid Bitch” – this was a real turning point in the show for me; I felt this song so personally and both appreciated that and felt way too exposed.  Favorite lyric:  “These shards are a metaphor for my soul / Can’t stop the self-pity ‘cause I’m on a roll.”

“Tell Me I’m OK” – I hate how accurate these songs are; Rebecca needing assurance from random strangers that she’s normal, and convinced that everyone else knows inherently how to come across as normal.  Favorite lyric: “Seriously, Patrick, was I sick in school the day they taught you how to be a normal person? / It just feels like there’s something fundamental I’m missing out on / Like, is there an instruction manual?”

“Santa Ana Winds” – Rebecca uses the Santa Ana Winds as an excuse for her behavior rather than taking responsibility; she also manages to make herself the center of everything by convincing herself the Sana Ana Winds are out to get her personally.  Eric Michael Roy’s performance absolutely makes this song. Favorite lyric:  “I’m mystical but also carry dangerous spores / I bring whimsy and forest fires.”

a man dressed in a suit dances along the road as cars are backed up along both sides

“The End of the Movie” – another song I wish I didn’t relate to so hard; I just feel like life is supposed to make way more sense than it does.  Plus the Josh Groban cameo is perfectly executed.  Favorite lyric:  “If you saw a movie that was like real life, you’d be like ‘What the hell was that movie about? It was really all over the place’ / Life doesn’t make narrative sense.”

“No One Else Is Singing My Song” – oof, this one hurts because I know I’ve been guilty of wallowing in my own self-pity to the point I’m convinced no one could possibly ever relate to what I’m feeling.  CEG plays this up perfectly in this song, emphasizing that a lot of Rebecca’s isolation is self-inflicted.  Favorite lyric:  “Have you ever been far from home / So scared you had to roam / And now you’re beaten and tired with no one to call a friend (He doesn’t count).”

The power of self-delusion

“West Covina” – so many of Rebecca’s problems come from this place of seeing exactly what she wants to see while denying the reality of the situation.  Favorite lyric: “My life’s about to change, oh my gosh / Because I’m desperately, hopelessly in love with…West Covina.”

“I’m a Good Person” – the uncensored version is everything to me.  Once again, Rebecca looks to others for validation while completely deceiving herself.  Favorite lyric: “Newsflash, fuckwads, I’m a good person / Do what I can for you all the time.”

“Nothing Is Ever Anyone’s Fault” – Rebecca gets so close to self-actualization here, recognizing that her trauma and mistakes have shaped who she is.  Unfortunately, she and Nathaniel are blindly determined to blame their parents for all that has gone wrong in their lives.  Favorite lyric:  “It wasn’t technically Hitler’s fault / Hitler’s brother died and that made him super sad.”

“A Diagnosis” – getting an accurate diagnosis is a huge step for Rebecca, but it’s not going to be an easy journey.  Again, she gets so close to the point, yet misses it entirely, believing that the diagnosis equates to a solution to her problems.  Favorite lyric: “With a diagnosis, I’m ready to blow this joint / And by joint I mean my inner sense of confusion (You said that confusingly).”

a woman in a clinic wears a yellow dress and sings the words "A diagnosis"

“After Everything I’ve Done for You” – poor Paula is just trying to vicariously live out her romantic fantasies through Rebecca, so who can blame her for getting a bit upset when her scheming yields no results?  As this song demonstrates, Rebecca isn’t the only character fixated on fairytale romance.  Favorite lyric: “That’s right, I make yoga class schedules / There’s no limit to where my reach is.”

“Don’t Be a Lawyer” –  I absolutely love the ’90s vibe of this, as well as what I consider (further) confirmation that my decision to work in libraries was the best of my life.  Also shout-out to “I Want to Be a Child Star,” which is great and could have the alternate title “Don’t Be a Child Star.” Favorite lyric: “There are so many other professions that don’t turn you into Jeff Sessions.”

Toxic masculinity

“Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too” – one of my absolute favorite songs of the entire show, this takedown of toxic masculinity never fails to crack me up.  It’s obnoxious how a group of extremely privileged dudes is holding their own pity party, though at the same time, it’s really their own conception of masculinity holding back their free emotional expression.  Favorite lyric: “Don’t look at us, we’re not dancing for you / Leave us alone, we have to twerk out our sad.”

three men without shirts dance onstage in front of a crowd, singing the words "Twerk out our sad"

“I Go to the Zoo” – playing against type, fuckboy Nathaniel reveals the illegal high he gets to forget about his broken heart:  visiting the zoo after hours.  Favorite lyric: “I look at the monkeys / Their eyes look like my eyes.”

“The Buzzing from the Bathroom” – the idea that Tim’s masculinity is threatened based on his wife’s orgasms is ridiculous, yet it’s a real fear men have. The Les Mis parody makes Tim’s fears seem all the more melodramatic while reminding us there’s a very simple solution here:  just ask what your romantic partner likes.  Favorite lyric:  “Oh, the buzzing, cursed buzzing, that damn incessant hum / I used to think I was a hero / Can’t believe she didn’t come…to tell me that she needed so much more than I could give.”

Problematic narratives surrounding romantic love

“Love Kernels” – the Beyoncé tribute is brilliant, the costuming incredible, and the lyrics inspired.  God, it hurts how desperate Rebecca is and how real it feels.  Favorite lyric:  “I’ll be patient until the kernels rain down like candy on Shaquille O’Neal in the movie Kazaam.

“Fuckton of Cats” — again, the TV version is good, but the uncensored version is exquisite.  Favorite lyric: “This is the future smell of my house / It’s the smell of my dreams that have died (and cats).”

“The Math of Love Triangles” – while love triangles are the bread and butter of rom-coms, they’re not as glamorous as Rachel Bloom’s Marilyn Monroe impersonation. Favorite lyric: “We’re starting to suspect you don’t sincerely want to know about triangles.”

a woman in a blue dress smiles broadly as a group of men wearing glasses look on around her

“One Indescribable Instant” – Lea Salonga sings beautifully about fairytale romance in the vaguest of terms.  Favorite lyric: “What, are you kidding me? / No, it’s for real-able.”

“Oh My God I Think I Like You” – this is surprisingly sweet and sad for a song that focuses so much on intense, no-strings sex.  Favorite lyric: “Is there spermicidal lubricant that can kill the fluttering in my heart?”

“I Hate Everything But You” – I relate to Greg a lot sometimes, most clearly exemplified by this song.  Favorite lyric: “I hate when people ask me if I’d ever get a tattoo / Hate combination conditioner and shampoo.”

Sexuality and sexual health

Cats songs: “Hungry Vagina Metaphor,” “Itchy Vagina Metaphor,” “Funky Vagina Metaphor” – it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite among these, though Fred Armisen’s cameo as Itchy Cat holds a special place in my heart.  I’m impressed with the show’s commitment to exponentially increasing the number of songs written about yeast infections.  Favorite lyric: “Funky cat is all the rage when something’s off with your pH.”

a man dressed as an orange cat crouches on all fours on a couch

“I Gave You a UTI” – Santino Fontana’s performance here is so great, while the song breaks new ground with its subject matter.  At least, as far as I know, there had never been songs about having a UTI until this one.  Favorite lyric: “I’m so good at sex / Your maidenship got wrecked.”

The un-sexiness of sex

“The Sexy Getting Ready Song” – truly an instant classic.  Right off the bat, CEG is interested in examining unrealistic beauty standards for women.  This one focuses on the misconception that looking flawless comes naturally; actually, it’s quite a process that is really painful and often downright disgusting.  Favorite lyric:  “You know what?  I gotta go apologize to some bitches.  I’m forever changed after what I just seen.”

“The First Penis I Saw” – unlike other songs about first love, this one doesn’t hesitate to bring up the awkward, embarrassing side of a first sexual experience.  The ABBA parody is brilliantly done, and Donna Lynne Champlin’s face acting is just so excellent.  Favorite lyric:  literally this entire song.

three women holding vegetables as microphones stand in front of a large squash, singing the words "First penis"

“Let’s Have Intercourse” – taking a romantic Ed Sheeran-style approach to this ballad, Nathaniel manages to make this seduction entirely about himself and his own gratification.  Favorite lyric: “Sometimes my body wants things that my mind does not / My body wants things that make my mind go ‘Body, what?'”

“Strip Away My Conscience” – shattering all of our illusions about sexy stripteases, Rebecca’s number includes throwing a shoe at Nathaniel’s head and reminding him that her thong has just been up her butt.  Favorite lyric: “Baby, it’s such foreplay / When you slither like a moray / EEL.”

Self-acceptance

“Gettin’ Bi” – such a fun song that captures Darryl’s enthusiastic personality while making important and valid points about bisexuality.  Favorite lyric: “It doesn’t take an intellectual to get that I’m bisexual.”

a man in a white suit sings into a microphone as four members of a band play instruments behind him

“Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal” — I strongly feel this should be required listening for anyone taking anti-depressants or other meds to manage mental illness, as well as people who don’t understand why these medications are so important and necessary.  Favorite lyric:  “Some cry that in the past we didn’t medicate everyone / Cool, witch trials and the crusades / Sounded like so much fun.”

Bonus round

“Dream Ghost” — I absolutely love this song and don’t know what category to put it in. The Dream Girls motown tribute is so catchy in and of itself, while the meta commentary is sharp, and Michael Hyatt’s voice is so perfect for it.  Favorite lyric: “This guy is deciding whether or not to leave his wife / This girl is wondering if she should terminate a pregnancy.”

three women dressed in long, shiny dresses stand in front of a cloud backdrop

“There’s No Bathroom” — the Weird Al cameo this show deserves with the reprise I never would’ve expected.  This song is as bizarrely fun as the man himself (complete with accordion).  Favorite lyric: again, this entire number.

Thanks for sticking with me through this behemoth of a post.  Thanks for the memories, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend!

Life Rants

Advice from the Bard

“The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” –William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

May I suggest this thought applies so very well to that noble profession, that (and I quote) “work of heart,” also known as teaching?  Though lacking in the poetic elegance of Shakespeare, I stand by my statement.

With a new job this year, a large percentage of my responsibilities has involved teaching those tenderest of college students who (among other gender identities) are not girls, not yet women:  first years.

And I barely remember being a freshman–not, as you may imagine, because I spent the year on a months-long bender, but because I spent that year (as I spent all of my college years) intensely ignoring my symptoms of social anxiety and depression.

I can remember my poor, poor college instructors who tried so hard to encourage me to participate, recommended me for a job at the writing center, held one-on-one conferences outlining plans for me to speak up in class.  And those who, perhaps simply to move discussion along or out of their own discomfort, called on me in class without knowing the immediate panic I would feel as I strung together an incoherent jumble of words.  It was so much easier for me to write, to take tests, to read chapter after chapter, than to learn to speak in class or make small talk with my peers (which I of course had no idea I was supposed to be learning).

Now this is the kind of thing students can get support for, and I’m sure it was then.  But I wasn’t going to do that most shameful of all step that akin to a confession that I wasn’t really supposed to be there:  ask for help.

For a long time, I thought things would have been different if just one instructor showed some compassion.  They did–but I didn’t recognize it because I needed to show compassion to myself.  I did eventually go to the counseling center, and I learned what a gift it was to enter a space where I always had an attentive listener, where what I said mattered.

Another piece of my college experience that affected me unexpectedly was my campus job, which I still wish I had gotten sooner.  Rejection’s a bitch at any age, isn’t it?

I had always wanted to work in libraries, so it perhaps wasn’t too much of a shock that I loved my job in the library.  Beyond the work that I did and the slightly stern but calm environment of the 7-story building, the job was much more than the shelving or pamphlet binding I did.  It was a place where people were happy to see me, grateful for my help, and always said thank you (if you ever supervise college students, the extreme gratitude for common courtesies will make so much more sense).

Now that my job is at least to some extent being an instructor, I can appreciate how those silences in class can be crushing.  I understand how frustrating it can be when those really smart students with a lot to say refuse to utter a goddamn word (a lot of them women, first-generation college students, of racial minorities).  And I really, really get how making a mistake can be such a great learning experience, though it may not feel like it at the time.

I don’t have words of wisdom for students, and I definitely don’t have advice for teachers.  The only thing I can say is if you’re in college, go to that fucking counseling center.  You have no idea what a beautiful thing it is to be able to take those services for granted until you’re paying $50 or more every time you want to speak to a counselor or how difficult it can be to schedule those sessions when you’re working full-time.

As for teaching…there’s a reason this meme was created.

Featured image by Marco Secchi on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, or: Lute Duet

I’m sad and astonished to report we’re close to wrapping up the best month on the blog.  This week brings us more horror with the unintentional bonus theme of (mis)handling mental health.  But let’s be honest—that’s every month on this blog.

The Film:

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

The Premise:

Upon moving to a creepy house in the country, a woman’s dark hallucinations return, disrupting her connection to reality.

The Ramble:

After mysteriously moving to a small, rural town, Jessica is ready to put the past behind her.  She’s arrived in town rather ominously in a hearse, along with her husband and also…some random guy who just lives with them?  Like I tried really hard to figure out why he was there being the awkward live-in third wheel but that remains unclear.

A woman stands in front of a headstone in a cemetery.
Cemeteries are pretty cool, though.

So anyway…Jessica alludes vaguely to her visions and time in the hospital, but is more than happy to leave all of that behind.  It seems eerie visions aren’t entirely in the past, though, when she sees a ghostly figure of a woman in a graveyard.  To avoid any unwanted questions, Jessica keeps this particular sighting quiet, convincing herself she didn’t really see anything.  That always works out well in horror, right…?

To make things worse, the group takes a ferry over to the house, aka the old Brookfield place.  The man who runs the ferry tells them sinisterly they’ll be on the other side soon after hearing where they’re heading.  Ooooooooh, double meanings!

Upon arriving at the house, Jessica and the others discover they aren’t quite alone.  A woman named Emily has been living in the abandoned house and, feeling a kinship with her, Jessica invites her to stay.  She sort of regrets this immediately when Emily and Jessica’s husband, Duncan, share an uncomfortable lute duet filled with sexual tension.

Three men face a red-haired woman.
Nice…lute?

Meanwhile, Jessica is seeing more and more dark visions, including seeing blood, hearing voices, and encountering a dead body floating in the nearby pond.  The small town vibe is rather eerie as well—the approximately 4 dudes who live in town seem set on being really standoffish and uninviting.  The one somewhat friendly face in town is the antiques dealer, who is quick to reveal the sad story of a local woman who drowned and now haunts the town and/or may be a vampire (begging the question of whether you can be both a vampire and a ghost simultaneously).

A woman in a messy antique shop looks at a small stained glass lamp.
TBH, I was expecting this to become a scene from IDFAHITWA as soon as the antique shop came into play.  Sadly, it did not.

As Jessica sees increasingly disturbing images, Emily is more and more sinister, and Duncan acts even sleazier, Jessica begins to question what is real, desperate to convince herself she’s imagining everything.  Who will make it to the other side, as it were?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

It’s not especially scary as a horror film, but it does set up an atmosphere of paranoia very effectively and tackles mental health quite well.  Jessica seeing things no one else can see and constantly second-guessing herself and the voices in her head is so real.

I really enjoyed Emily as a character/chaotic force of nature while simultaneously feeling a lot of sympathy for Jessica.  The men in this film could’ve just spontaneously combusted and it would have been fine with me; they were quite bland characters.

Ha, though some of the, er, suspenseful music is hilarious and does take away from the drama of it all at times.  It makes me wonder if all of the intense music post-Dark Knight will be laughable in a few years and take people out of the scene immediately.

Did this one scare Christa to death or would she hop onto a ferry in search of something better?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Poppy Shakespeare, or: Arguably the Less Fun Shakespeare

I thought this week’s film would go nicely with our theme and be somewhat satirical in the vein of Trainspotting.  Horrible moments dotted with the occasional winking nudge along the lines of “Blimey, this mental health business is a bit much, isn’t it?”

I don’t know where this delusion came from…possibly too much John Oliver?  The moral of the story is that I was wrong.  So, so wrong.

The Film:

Poppy Shakespeare

Where to Watch:

Amazon Prime

The Premise:

Pray you never find yourself at the mercy of the mental health care system, whether you believe in a higher power or not.

The Ramble:

N is a patient who has been in psychiatric care for many years, carrying on a legacy inherited from her mother and grandmother, and possibly farther up her family tree.  She’s pretty content with the status quo—she collects “mad money” as her income, gets to come and go more or less freely, and enjoys the company of her fellow patients.

A woman in a crowded hallway clasps hands with a person in a white rabbit costume.
Based on this scene, I’d be totally fine with a stay at Dorothy Fish.

Obviously a change is coming, which arrives in the form of Poppy Shakespeare.  Though everyone in the Dorothy Fish hospital is there voluntarily, Poppy insists she isn’t.  N is assigned to help Poppy understand how the ward works, but the only help Poppy is interested in is how to return to her life and daughter.

A woman in a fashionable coat and bag speaks to another woman.
Dress every day as if you’ll be committed to psychiatric care.

Meeting with a lawyer introduces Poppy to the catch-22 that is the entire mental health system:  to collect “mad money” and pay for representation that proves she is fit to leave Dorothy Fish, Poppy must prove she is, in fact, mentally unstable.  Luckily, she has N to help her con the system by falsifying her forms and demonstrating symptoms like pulling out her own hair and burning herself with scalding water.

Meanwhile, the ward is undergoing massive changes.  In an attempt to cut costs and receive bonuses, assessments will be made more frequently to discharge more patients more quickly.  N is terrified as her usual yearly performance must walk a very fine line to avoid the dread of placement on one of the upper floors for more severe mental health issues without being discharged entirely.

A woman in a psychiatric ward holds a bouquet of flowers as rose petals fall around her.
They like me–they really like me!

As N and Poppy try to cheat the system, they become close friends.  The chemistry between the two leads is perfect, making their friendship believable yet bittersweet.  While N is confident their plan will succeed, of course things aren’t going to be so simple as the two patients wind their way through the maze that is the mental health system.  All of this madness begins to take its toll on both characters, and the emotional damage they suffer together will have understandable, realistic consequences for them.

Yeah, this is less Trainspotting and more…slowly bludgeoning your feelings with a wooden plank for an hour and a half.

The Rating:

3/5 PPHs

I wouldn’t argue that this is a bad film or one that mishandles its subject matter, but it’s heavy as fuck.  Oh, you wanted an uplifting film about overcoming crises and handling mental health issues effectively?  Not this one.

Poppy’s situation is horrifying as she describes completing a profile, then out of the blue being identified as someone with a severely disordered personality and being stuck in limbo.  Her experience begs the question of who exactly defines sanity and what motivations may influence them–especially when N uncovers a secret towards the end of the film.  N isn’t in a much better place, as she and just as much at the mercy of the system–a system that failed miserably to help her mother and grandmother.

Chillingly, Dorothy Fish is recognized for its excellence at one point in the film.  It’s a bit of an Ivan Denisovich move–if this place is considered exemplary, how terrible must the other wards be?

Would Christa let this one loose or send it up a floor higher?  Read her review here to find out!

Life Rants

On Counseling, or: How Does That Make You Feel?

Six different counselors have listened to me, and I don’t think there will be a seventh.  At least not for a while.

Some terminology first:  I use the word “counselor” over “therapist” because counselor to me suggests someone advising you versus someone “fixing” you.  Therapy inevitably winds up alongside concepts like physical therapy, which you do for a set amount of time until your muscles have healed.  Sometimes this is how counseling works—you do it until you no longer need it.  But I haven’t ever felt “fixed” so much as I’ve learned some new coping strategies and some ways to recognize when I’m not coping well.

I’ve had counselors I’ve really clicked with, and others not so much.  My latest taught me two things:  1. Sometimes the counselor is wrong for you, and 2. I have the tools I need to be my own best counselor.

I should clarify the first point—I don’t think my counselor was under-qualified or giving out bad advice, but it wasn’t advice that made sense for me.  The best counselors for me listen and help bring me to my own conclusions, whereas this one told me on several occasions what I should do and, implicitly, how I should feel.  She told me about the solace she has found in religion.  I honestly wish I could say the same, but I don’t, and the tone she took made me feel inexplicably guilty.

At the time, I was feeling inadequate about starting a new job, managing one of the worst family conflicts I’ve ever dealt with (and that’s saying something), and feeling extremely isolated.  According to the counselor I spoke with, the key to unlocking all of my problems was forgiveness (and, I swear, The Secret, but I will try to refrain from being overly snarky in this post).  I do know that I hold onto grudges and don’t forgive easily, but telling me that I should be more forgiving does absolutely nothing to help me feel better about myself.

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We weren’t even halfway through our 6 sessions, and I already knew this counselor didn’t understand where I was coming from.  She told me I was adorable and angelic, both of which made me feel worse.  I catch myself being fake nice all of the time and suppressing the shit out of my negative emotions, so being complimented on how sweet I am just makes me feel like complete garbage.  She asked me if I love myself, and I don’t know how to fucking respond to that.  I’m human.  There are things I like about myself, and things that I don’t.  I know that one of the people I’m most reluctant to forgive is myself.

The worst was when I told her my reasons for coming in, and she paraphrased, “So you’d say you’ve had a pretty easy life.”  Would a single fucking person in the world say they’ve had an easy life?  Life is damn hard, no matter who you are.  I’ve certainly had privileges others haven’t, but I felt so obliterated when she said that, so completely invalidated.  In retrospect, I should’ve said that it wasn’t working out and asked to see another counselor, but I am so goddamn stubborn and feel like I’ve failed if I quit something.

Even though I don’t think of the sessions with this counselor as successful, being unable to connect with her gave me room to connect better with myself.  I realized I didn’t need these sessions at all—what I really needed was to give myself time alone to unravel my feelings, space to breathe, and compassion to be fair to myself even when I don’t like who I am.

I’m not particularly good at trusting or forgiving people or feeling like an authentic version of myself, whatever that actually means.  Sometimes I dig myself a pit of self-despair and don’t know how to get back out.  But that’s part of who I am, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I’m doing those things and trying to refocus my energy.

Believe me, I’m not saying you should ignore the advice your counselor gives you or skip out on counseling.  I am most certainly not an expert on mental health issues.  Besides, I really clicked with a couple of my counselors, one of whom I still imagine having conversations with when I’m feeling really low.  He really understood me and pushed me to follow through to conclusions I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with.   But even psychologists are only human.  Like all human relationships, some work out better than others, and it’s not your fault if they don’t.