Horse Girl (dir. Jeff Baena, 2020) – Sarah experiences increasingly lucid dreams that begin to trickle into her waking life.
Sarah (Alison Brie) takes comfort in her mundane routines. She works at the arts and crafts store, spends time with her childhood horse Willow, and enjoys the rest of her night with her favourite supernatural crime show, Purgatory. It is an ordinary life that takes a sudden turn when she begins to experience surreal dreams. Inexplicable time loss soon has her questioning her reality that loses its sheen and threatens to shatter.
In the story of her mental breakdown, Horse Girl shares one writer and close DNA with I Heart Huckabees. Both riff on themes of existentialism, questioning the random laws of the universe and the consequently absurd meaning of life. But Jeff Baena’s latest film turns out a much darker take than its comedic predecessor.
Things take a dive fast as bizarre incidents cloud Sarah’s initial life of contentment. She finds her car missing. Mysterious scratches appear on her wall. Her housemates become exasperated with her strange behaviour. Unable to comprehend what was happening to her, she finds herself trapped in her own mind, us with her.
Much of this grounded inspiration perhaps comes from Alison Brie herself, who shares her own dealings with mental health in both writing and performance. The crisis that her character falls into feels real in her hands, making her easy to empathise with.
There is no embellished breaking point or major life event that Sarah’s decline is attributed to. Rather, her trauma is cumulative as she gradually loses the only people she feels close to, until she gives in to her fear of her family history with mental illness. It is a reminder of how easy the society can let anyone slip through the cracks.
The fascinating character arc remains compelling up to its final moments, where coherence unfortunately ebbs away with increasingly jarring imagery. But that may be just what is intended as its unreliable narrator continually provokes thoughtful questions about her perceived reality, if not answers.
Horse Girl offers an unsettling, intimate look into a fractured mind through the fearful eyes of its victim.