“A strong concept and creative visuals strung together without deeper meaning”
Unsurprisingly, Horse Girl is about a girl who loves horses. Though she may be a woman, she has an air of child-like innocence to her. Sarah (Alison Brie) spends her time going to see her horse Willow, visiting her mother’s grave, or rewatching her favorite supernatural crime television show whenever she’s not at work at her local craft store. She doesn’t get out much, but Sarah seems pretty content with her life. She’s close with her co-worker, Joan (Molly Shannon) who she confides in when things are tough and her roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan) checks in on her.
Sarah’s life starts to crumble when she begins to have weird dreams, or what she believes are dreams. She’s always been a sleepwalker, but something feels different. The dreams start causing issues in her life; she drives her car while asleep, wakes up naked at the craft store, and claws deep scratches into her rented apartment’s walls. Sarah fears she’s becoming mentally ill the same way her mother and grandmother did around her age, but she starts to notice coincidences that blur the lines between delusion and reality. As the viewer realizes they can’t decipher between reality and Sarah’s dreams, they find themselves in a similar position. What’s real and what isn’t? And, most importantly, will we get any answers with an unreliable leading character?
Alison Brie, co-writer and star of the film, gives a noteworthy performance. Brie throws herself into the role and without her, the film would not work. She gives Sarah a definitive sweetness that makes the audience root for her, even when they should probably question her. Brie’s role elicits simultaneous feelings of empathy and worry as Sarah’s mental illness pulls her further from reality. The horror of this film arises out of the way other people treat Sarah, which is not unlike the way society treats women with mental illnesses. Through her layered acting choices, Brie ensures Sarah’s experience isn’t minimized or made fun of. It’s taken seriously and is at times hard to watch, but it captures the difficulty of mental illnesses that involve delusions and hallucinations which are highly stigmatized.
Horse Girl had a lot of potential, but ended up feeling like a strong concept and creative visuals strung together without deeper meaning. The ambiguous ending leaves behind a craving for something more. It almost feels like a cop-out after all the energy the film spends unraveling Sarah’s life. The film is worth watching for the creative filmmaking choices and Brie’s performance, but the plot is not going to satiate those looking for answers.
Dir.: Jeff Baena
Prod.: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, Debby Ryan, John Paul Reynolds, Mathew Gray Gubler, Jake Picking
Release date: 7 February 2020
Available on: Netflix
Featured image courtesy of Duplass Brothers Productions