BLACK BEAR is the latest film from actor/writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine which centers around a young woman looking for inspiration at a remote lodge. The film stars Aubrey Plaza (Child’s Play), Sarah Gadon (“True Detective”), and Christopher Abbott (Possessor).
To best describe the film, I’ll turn to its official IMDB synopsis: “A filmmaker at a creative impasse seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways.”
BLACK BEAR is a film that just begs to be dissected. To pull apart all its messy layers to find the message at the bottom. It’s a film within a film, a complex narrative that by the time the movie ends, you’re still scratching your head putting the pieces together. In the end, you’re left with a dizzying concoction that’ll make the audience question what’s real and what’s just a figment of the artist’s imagination. And I loved every. single. minute. of. it.
Aubrey Plaza has always seemed to comfortably fit into quirkier roles, but in BLACK BEAR we get to see her talents explode. We meet her character, Allison, as she arrives at an AirBnB lodging destination own and run by Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon), a couple who are about to have their first child while also dealing with their relationship unraveling. Allison is an indie filmmaker hoping to find the inspiration she needs for her next movie and she begins to see it come to life in Gabe and Blair. What starts off as a playful dynamic between the three individuals quickly turns into chaos and confusion.
And it’s here in which a jarring shift occurs. One that will either push viewers away or entrap them. The switch is so unexpected that it took me by complete and total surprise, at once leaving me deflated. I was so enraptured by the palpable tension that the first half of the film gave me, that I couldn’t even begin to wonder what was going through Director Lawrence Michael Levine’s mind. And if you’re willing to take that plunge with him, you might be surprised with what you get out of the film. Don’t get me wrong, it took me awhile to catch on and even so, I’m still not 100% sure I understand everything. With themes ranging from writer’s block to traditional gender roles, there’s a lot to take in with BLACK BEAR.
Though the winding narrative can be confusing at times, what really sells the film are the performances. If the chemistry between these three actors wasn’t there, the film would have never worked, but in the case of BLACK BEAR, it’s one of the films shining moments. Their performances by Plaza, Abbott, and Gadon convey a passionate display of trust and vulnerability. Their characters are flawed humans, with Abbott’s being immensely toxic, and they unapologetically wear that on their sleeves.
In all, I loved this chaotic, confusing film. Plaza dazzles in a way I’ve never seen in her previous work while Abbott and Gadon solidly stand on their own with their performances. The film is an intricate puzzle box that’ll frustrate some while rewarding those who are willing to look deeper into the films hidden messages so as to put the pieces together. As desolate and vast as the location of the lodge is, the further into the film you go the more claustrophobic you’ll feel as the tension ramps up to an 11. BLACK BEAR is a film that’ll show you the lengths some are willing to go to be inspired, my only critique is that I wish it didn’t have to be so confusing. BLACK BEAR is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.