By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette
Directed by Charlie Kaufmann
Written by Charlie Kaufmann, Ian Reid
Produced by Likely Story, Projective Testing Service
I wasn’t originally planning on reviewing this film. I thought it was a bit outside the purview of what I usually cover for this column (with one or two exceptions, I rarely cover arthouse horror), and I also figured that somebody else would have written it up before I got the chance to. Imagine my surprise when (for the blog, at least) that turned out to not be the case. And so here I am, reviewing the latest arthouse horror film to make me extraordinarily uncomfortable while making me want to tear my own hair out at the same time.
Before I get into the film’s messaging (and believe me, there’s a LOT of it), let me talk about how this movie made me feel. In the first hour or so, everything about this film feels precisely calculated to make the audience feel as uncomfortable as possible. The awkward conversations between Lucy (Jessie Buckley) and Jake (Jesse Plemons) make it clear that neither is really listening to the other, both so absorbed in their own perspective they can’t quite reach each other. Their first philosophical exchange makes clear that both of them feel alienated, aren’t quite sure what to do with the situation they’re in; Lucy knows that their relationship is about to end, and questions why she’s taking this trip with him in the first place, and Jake is both struggling to hold on to Lucy and dreads seeing his parents. As he should, because the moments where Lucy and Jake are at his parents’ house are easily the best (and most discomfiting) of the film; all kinds of surreal bullshit happens here (that I won’t spoil) that demonstrates the film’s core philosophy while forcing Lucy (and us) into increasing unnerving scenarios, warps in and distortions of reality that leave us questioning what is real and what isn’t. This film is at its best when it shows instead of tells: scenes where the pair stops along the road at Jake’s old haunts, where characters change subtly in the background, and where the line between past, present, and future blurs till the three are indistinguishable make Kaufmann’s point better than an hour’s worth of dialogue in the car could.
“The film is at it’s best when it shows instead of tells, telling the laws of time and space to go fuck themselves.”
Unfortunately, he decides to gift us with both. And look, I don’t think that the extensive amount of time both characters spent pontificating on philosophy, theatre, and the state of cinema is necessarily a bad thing: in fact, for the mind-bending climax of the film, most of it is necessary. In the beginning, I really appreciated the film offering up it’s ideology to me on a silver platter, with characters going back and forth about the temporality of life, the alienation one feels when returning home, the manipulative and controlling nature of patriarchy, and the falsehood of objective reality. But by round three of them talking in the car for twenty minutes, I’m not going to lie: I mostly tuned it out and treated it like I was back in college reading a textbook, skimming through most of the bullshit ‘till I found an apparently useful quote, highlighting it, and moving on. Which sucks, because I REALLY enjoyed most of this film; I think the film’s messaging is relatable and spot on. I identified with both of the characters at times, and found the film’s ultimate misdirect (we think we know who the film is about, until we don’t) beyond satisfying; I thought it extremely clever, and the ending was surreal, poetic (if more than a touch overblown), and satisfying. In short, it was the perfect summation of this film.
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS is more than a tad too pretentious for my liking, lost at times in a discussion with itself. I can’t speak to the nature of the novel it’s based off of, but I wish that the film had traded some of its’ didacticism for more of its’ fascination with telling the laws of time and space to fuck right off. I mean it when I say there is a LOT in this film to admire, and that I genuinely loved it; I also mean it when I say it was occasionally a frustrating watch and that, because of its frequent Cultural Studies 101 segments, it felt like it was about 20 minutes too long. That being said, this is a beautifully shot film with some excellent performances from talented actors, and when this film works, it WORKS. The compelling nature of the mystery underscoring the film’s events, the characters’ struggles to work through their respective alienation and find meaning, and the climax which is both bittersweet and heart-achingly appropriate will more than satiate the patient horror fan looking for an existential fix. Not everyone will enjoy it, but those who do are going to LOVE it.
I’m thinking of giving this film an 8. And going back to B-movies next week.