Are you navigating the world of your own free will, or are you stuck to a script? That’s one of many questions to be answered in 100 minutes of filmmaking.
ULTRASOUND is a nonlinear sci-fi political mystery thriller. If that sounds like a bit to take on, that’s because it is. Produced and directed by Rob Schroeder, this is not a film for someone looking for a casual watch. You’ll likely walk away thinking about your own world views and how they came to be.
The film opens with Vincent Kartheiser’s Glen being taken by Art (Bob Stephenson) and Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez). A long discussion about depression and medication quickly turns into the audience learning about Art and Cyndi’s relationship, and how Art is willing to share his master bedroom with Glen since he was an unexpected guest and they didn’t have time to prepare a place for him to rest. From this point, I don’t think I can explain the plot in a way that makes sense, but I also don’t think you should know anything further.
What makes ULTRASOUND a truly impressive film is what you are shown as the viewer and when. If you are a fan of tv shows like Twin Peaks, you know that interesting and weird imagery eventually ties into a larger story, and ULTRASOUND does tie everything together nicely thanks to writer Conor Stechschulte.
This film feels like a constant visual dream moving from one scene to the next with the kind of dialogue that sometimes pivots the entire dream into a nightmare. I absolutely love what the camera chooses to show and not show, or how the camera plays tricks on the viewer. One scene, in particular, sees our political figure, Senator Harris (Chris Gartin) leave his home and as the door closes we see Art through the window of the door. A brilliant shot that had me rewinding several times to see how it was done. It’s also a creepy visual that doesn’t linger, not allowing the viewer to think too long about it. These are the types of things that continue to keep the mystery moving.
Performances throughout the film are gripping. My favorite is Breeda Wool’s Shannon, who, of anyone in the film, feels the most relatable. It’s unclear what her exact job is, but she’s a doctor of some sort that helps Dr. Conners (TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe) at a hospital. She finds herself conflicted with the ethics of her position and makes the choice to not feed into the system. We as the audience want to side with her, even if we don’t know the full story, and Wool’s performance emotionally sucked me into that position.
There is also a sense of hopelessness and dread to the film given to us from the performances of Kartheiser and Lopez. It’s that kind of feeling when you know something consequential is about to happen but there isn’t anything you can do because the cogs were already in motion prior to you showing up. I understood their tears, their blank faces, and their pleas for help. Like Wool’s Shannon, they became strangers I wanted to root for because they are what many of us see in the world. We were just born and we struggle to find morality and satisfaction in our lives because the systems were already in place.
Ultimately, ULTRASOUND is a film about manipulation. Not just a single moment or with one person, but throughout our lives and with a laundry list of people like an elementary school game of telephone. The kind where the person at one end has no idea who the person at the other end is but is deeply impacted by what they do and say.
Bring a philosophical friend to this one. You’ll want to deeply discuss it for hours, days, or even weeks after.
ULTRASOUND is now available in theaters and On Demand.