Review by Bryan Yentz
Starring Imogen Waterhouse, Sarah Hay and Madeline Brewer
Written and Directed by Mitizi Peirone
Blue Fox Entertainment
When drug dealers Petula & Tilda (Imogen Waterhouse & Sarah Hay) are pursued by police and lose their batch of narcotics, they decide to recoup the lost investment by cracking a safe hidden in the mansion of their wealthy (but deranged) childhood friend Daphne (Madeline Brewer). With the clock ticking and a potential threat looming lest they don’t repay what they lost (an element that never pays off), the thieves must indulge in their friend’s warped fantasy (as well as a set of three house rules prescribed from their youth) if they’re to get the money. Sounds compelling, right? You’d be forgiven if you thought so. Put it this way, it would be if you crossed M. Night’s bland THE VISIT (returning to childhood home; three house rules) with his far superior outing SPLIT (indulging antagonist’s fantasy/personality disillusionment to reap reward/escape), but then chopping it up, gluing it back together while wearing a blindfold and then coating the whole thing in a thick layer of ostentation. Who wouldn’t want that?
BRAID is less a film and more a vanity project. It’s the very reason people scoff when they hear the term “arthouse” used in describing a motion picture. Now, lacking cohesion while telling a tale with a fractured timeline is nothing new and can often make a story that much more engaging for the viewer. However, within incapable hands, the result is, well, something akin to BRAID. Where a multitude of films before BRAID succeeded in their acid-trip stylings (LOST HIGHWAY, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW) and unconventional means at plot development (JACOB’S LADDER, THE FOUNTAIN, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, more recently DARLING & PSYCHOPATHS—though both of those sucked too) writer/director Mitzi Peirone uses the narrative disorientation to simply justify every inconsistency, motive contradiction and plot hole. That’s not being a brave storyteller, that’s just being lazy.
The initial setup shows promise, but quickly devolves into a start-stop experience along the lines of an over-indulged Vanity Fair photoshoot. Scene to scene has no bearing on what preceded it, nor what comes after. Occasionally, things happen, but there’s zero continuity, so what just transpired in a prior moment has no relevance, because the sequence after, undoes it. Characters are tied up via their own braided hair (there’s that title!), the very next scene, they’re free; wandering around the house like nothing happened (despite the previous moment alluding to their tormentor preparing to slice ‘em up good). Meat tenderizer to the kneecap? Next scene, the impacted character has no limp and/or damage. Character given a Chelsea Smile? Next scene her rictus is devoid of scarring. Characters put their phones in a mailbox? Next scene, the mailbox is now randomly covered with chains for the most illegitimate reason possible. Characters break the fourth wall, stare at the camera while one sings and razors her face? Next scene, back to normal. Each individual moment rewrites the rules without having grounded anything to begin with (strange considering the flick’s insistence on following the game’s three guidelines). This robs the experience of being a guessing game and reinforces the fact that the Peirone had little knowledge of structure and simply had some “wouldn’t this be weird and macabre, but like, pretty” ideas she wanted to depict.
The arthouse factor is so forced that it’s used as a grating distraction to the utter lack of content. Had BRAID actually been about what it’s logline suggests, it could have been a worthwhile film, but it’s not. The first fifteen minutes are only used as a buffer to get to the “weird”, and from there, it’s just a smorgasbord of music video stylings that offer very little substance and less reason to care. But hey, at least they’re “high-art” kooky! Why take a bath when you could take it with disco balls strategically placed around the tub!? Why have a normal ceiling when you could have large hooks hanging from it in sheer contrast to the bright color of the room!?
What bits of plot BRAID contains, are scattershot at best and the only sense of slight development comes from a flashback involving the trio of ladies and their childhood treehouse. We glean a certain point of contention and are introduced to a police officer (Scott Cohen) who could have been fully removed and the movie would have still been the same. This badge-bearer is only in the movie to extrapolate on one of the “rules” and doesn’t serve the plot otherwise. Each of the three women are appropriately unlikable (and well-performed for how little depth each have), but due to a complete lack of tension, no real escalation of narrative, and an overreliance on downright insipid character choices, BRAID tosses out nearly all possibility of empathy and renders any investment void. As BRAID stumbles, screams and Instagram-filters its way toward an utterly anticlimactic and eye-rolling kinda-sorta-reveal that once again, alters the already mangled perception one might have had, it becomes abundantly clear that pretension was more important than conveying anything meaningful.
More recent efforts like NEON DEMON, the love it/hate it ONLY GOD FORGIVES, and on a lesser budget, THE DEMOLISHER, proved that topsy-turvy storytelling can coexist with a character’s mental breakdown when the filmmaker offers a narrative that is worthy of dissection. Each of these pictures contained appropriate beats of surrealist continuity that weren’t attempting to confound the viewer, but push them to contemplate the imagery’s significance and lead them to a certain conclusion. And unlike BRAID, what each of these separate cinematic experiences also delivered were two integral factors: actual stakes and characters with arcs.
Consider BRAID the difference between someone throwing food into a blender and a chef patiently preparing a meal. Anyone can drop a bunch of random ingredients, press a button and mulch it together before sloshing the multi-colored mixture in front of an expectant maw; but few can take such wildly varying tastes, textures—and somehow—make it meld beautifully; delivering a feast that shouldn’t have worked, but does and is absolutely delicious. Peirone has skill at composing compositions equivalent to fashion design ads, so hopefully for her next outing, she can forego the quick-mix solution of swirling blades and chance her abilities with the full arsenal of a cinematic skullery. Bon Appetit.