Black Bear Movie Review
I’m a notorious multitasker. When watching movies at home, I almost assuredly am working on something else - reviews, website improvements, or admittedly checking Facebook or the news every five minutes for some new, inane update. Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear, meanwhile, is a movie that demands your attention. And deserves it.
While not a perfect correlation, I often find my multitasking behaviors tend to dissipate when a movie draws me in, and that’s exactly what happened with Black Bear, an odd, engrossing, and stress-inducing thriller of sorts that refuses to play by any particular rules. Seemingly straightforward until it isn’t at all, the movie repeatedly flips the script--and/or its cast depending on how you look at it--in unpredictable fashion.
Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon star as an actress, a filmmaker, and his wife, and not necessarily in that order. It’s best to go into Black Bear as blind as possible, because even if you do, Levine is likely to upend your expectations with his slippery, ever-twisting story.
But the story, as crucial as it is, is secondary to the emotion the film elicits, not so much in the characters but in you. I went into the movie completely unaware of what it was about, and as expected, it starts off simply and slowly ratchets up the tension from there. But Levine never lets up, never gives you a moment of reprieve or escape, from whatever the hell this film is. Earlier, I called it a thriller, but that’s not entirely an accurate description. And in the previous sentence, I wanted to call it a nightmare, but horror movie it is not, either. Black Bear is its own beast, a deliciously crafted blend of drama, suspense, and much more.
The cast is up to the task, which is no easy feat. Plaza is perfect, and by the end she leaves you breathless. She coils herself around her character and the character around her, a necessary transformation for what’s at hand. Abbott and Gadon are also superb, and while much of the emotional heft goes to Plaza, they play with Levin’s words and intentions with devilish insight.
Black Bear isn’t for everyone, and it’s a film where the journey is arguably more satisfying than the complete picture, but it’s an experience worthy of your attention. No multitasking allowed.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.