After the first 15 minutes-or-so of Horse Girl had passed, I was hooked. I knew before pressing start that the film was a psychological drama so the character study-ness of it all in the beginning felt immensely real and captivating. There were interesting directing choices by Jeff Baena and musical flourishes all around and Alison Brie sold her character, Sarah, instantly. Then came the middle third which started to make me feel worried for the story and later on the last third was exactly what I feared.
Brie is spectacular as Sarah and she is the reason why you’d be invested to stay with the movie. Sarah is battling a mental illness which requires some heavy lifting from Brie to not overperform or underperform. It starts with some difficulties during social interactions and there are small gestures to show Sarah’s anxiety (also how she deals with it like watching her favourite show: Purgatory. Brie dances (zumbas?) through this gracefully. Baena on the other hand finds striking shots throughout the film with his over-the-top zooms and camera movements. And even though that starts to get confusing later on, it is still fitting for the story that is being told here.
Horse Girl begins to lose its identity during the middle part as it starts to introduce grimness to Sarah’s mental state. The story is suddenly fumbling with the ball that is this character, seemingly losing any original point-of-view to the issue in hand. This all is combined with weird editing choices that makes the viewer try to keep up with the plot instead of being a fly on the wall.
With sheer luck the film gets another chance to do something meaningful with the base idea when mental institutions and professionals are included but that is thrown out the window to flex some muscles in a terrible trip sequence. That leads us to the resolution of Sarah’s arc which finds the writers so far away from the character, opting to end the film without knowing how to do it. The downward trajectory of the movie also includes a table-read worthy acting from Debby Ryan (as Nikki) and a couple musical interludes that disrupt the score which was applicable otherwise.
Smileys: Alison Brie, directing
Frowneys: Structure, premise, Debby Ryan
This horse didn’t even finish the race, though it was in the lead for a while.