2022 | unrated (PG-13 equivalent) | starring Bob Stephenson, Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Brenda Wool | directed by Rob Schroeder | 1 hr 43 mins |
Glen (Vincent Kartheiser)’s car breaks down and he seeks refuge in the home of Art (Rob Stephenson) and his young wife Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez). Things immediately get strange when Art offers his wife up to Glenn and even stranger when Art shows up to his house weeks later with news that Cyndi is pregnant. Soon the trio find themselves caught in an elaborate plot that unravels their reality.
Ultrasound is an impressive movie that is also might be too clever by half. It’s a shakily constructed little creation with a cracking story and clever execution but there is a small Deep Movie Analysis critique that comes with this otherwise full-throated recommendation. It’s a puzzle box film in the best sense, not the J.J. Abrams goes-nowhere sense. This movie goes somewhere with a bang, it just takes a minute to get there and miscalculates our investment before it does. Few recent movies I’ve seen require a repeat viewing as much as this one. We can debate whether or not that’s actually successful as a film.
Opening on a literal dark and stormy night, Ultrasound is a low tech, high concept film that fits right in with neo-techno thrillers like Possessor and Censor that re-package 70s paranoia for a modern era. Directed by Rob Schroeder, it’s a scruffy work of vision that tightly folds it’s layers in and around itself. It’s hard to describe without tipping off the story and discovering the story is most of the fun here. We have a May-December married couple, a hapless dupe, a politician and the woman he’s having an affair with and we have a mysterious experiment that Glen and Cyndi’s pairing soon become either victim to or liberated by. All of this makes sense on a 2nd viewing, down to all of the little details that Schroeder has dropped in to play with our perception while giving away what’s happending right under our noses the whole time. I love when a movie completely surprises me as much as Ultrasound did – and it does so without cheats and lazy cut corners. It does the work to lay out one reality and then peel it back for another. It’s crisp, efficient and atmospheric, lulling us into it’s own hypnotic state.
The philosophical question here is should a movie require two viewings to get. Again, this is different than movies that re-define our reality and grow better on seconds viewings – your usual examples being Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, Oldboy or The Usual Suspects. I’d say where those movie stand the test of time that Ultrasound doesn’t quite pull off is that it doesn’t establish a fully developed red herring enough to engage us before pulling out that rug. I talked about this with Last Christmas and how that movie didn’t understand it’s twist. While everyone tends to remember the twist in Fight Club, that movie still works beautifully without the twist. The story of a disaffected drone that starts a movement but is trapped as the third wheel in a love story against another guy he’s subconsciously jealous of is still a compelling movie on first view. Ultrasound doesn’t have that strong an A-story. It doesn’t play like 2 movies. It plays like one that spends half it’s running time keeping us in the dark.
Schroeder might just trust the audience too much to go with him and come out of the gate with an ambitious idea that would play better after a few movies that established a tone we’re expecting. He hasn’t calculated how many times we as viewers have been sent down the mystery box trail before only to be burned by a thoughtless resolution that nullified the journey. We don’t know how much we are supposed to care or pay attention until the movie wakes us up to that fact. You were supposed to be paying attention to everything. The good news is that with Ultrasound he has established that credibility and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
It’s worth mentioning that even on first viewing, without all the story-elevating details in place, the back half of this film is a crackler. The force behind the movie – not quite magic or trickery – is a bit exaggerated, but the movie treats it seriously and establishes rules that it plays fairly with. It jerks around us and it’s characters in a thrilling way and even before all of the pieces click into place – nothing is spelled out for us – the ride is wholly satisfying. It’s been a while since a movie that required this much trust, paid off in this compelling a way. Highly recommended.