A bad relationship can make you question everything you think you know — about yourself, your partner, and everything else in your life. You lose your own sense of identity and wonder if you ever knew the other person at all. Writer-Director Robert Gregson’s short horror film A GOOD COUPLE plays on these fears, intriguingly combining two horror tropes to examine the divide between our true selves and the images of us that other people have in their minds.
In classic horror movie tradition, Julia (Julie Ann Earls) and Dan (Alex Mandell) are celebrating their two-year anniversary at a cabin in the woods. The film opens mid-argument, though, and it’s clear that this is an old wound that refuses to heal. Julia and Dan’s relationship seems to run on inertia, and their initial interactions are full of nothing but resentment, fatigue, and frustration. That all changes when Dan storms out and returns the next day, talking and behaving like a brand new person. Julia is pleased but suspicious, asking him, “Why are you being so good?” She’s happy to see a positive change in her partner, though, and they enjoy their day…until they find something shocking while out on a hike.
From a purely narrative standpoint, A GOOD COUPLE doesn’t blaze any new trails for the horror genre or provide a lot of surprises for the viewer. Thematically, though, it takes two horror elements that I love and twists them in an interesting direction. Reflections recur as a visual motif to underscore the loss of identity that comes from a bad relationship. Julia doesn’t recognize herself anymore, and she can’t reconcile who Dan really is with who she wants him to be. She notices odd things about both of them, but these eerie images are only visible when she’s looking over her shoulder, a sure sign of the paranoia she feels as she questions whether either one of them is being their authentic self after being worn down by the expectations and miscommunications of a dysfunctional romance.
One of the dangers of staying in a bad relationship is that you ultimately become a different person. Even if you never change, the tension between your identity and the identity your partner has concocted for you in their own mind boils over, changing the relationship dynamic in often irrevocable ways. You look in the mirror and see a stranger looking back at you, or you glance at the person you’ve spent two years of your life with and realize that you don’t recognize them at all. With its unsettling portrait of a troubled romance, A GOOD COUPLE finds the true horror in that realization.
A GOOD COUPLE had its World Premiere at this year’s Dances With Films Festival.