Playing the old switcheroo, “Black Bear” maintains its tense atmosphere mostly thanks to Aubrey Plaza’s alluring performance, which raises itself above a well done, if not slightly irritating script. Jumping between multiple awkward situations where the tensions continue to elevate beyond its breaking point, Lawrence Michael Levine’s film can, at times, be a bit too difficult to watch in all the right ways. We think we can see the story heading towards charted territory until it flips itself on the head, making us question who’s playing who or what is or isn’t reality. “Black Bear” plays an intricate game of structural chess that falls a bit short of achieving the sort of nonlinear mastery that folks like Christopher Nolan can do in his sleep.
Seeking asylum to write her next movie Allison (Aubrey Plaza) rents a bed and breakfast inside a log cabin because, as we all know, nothing ever goes wrong in a log cabin. The owners of the cottage are far too transparent with their emotions towards one another. Gabe (Christopher Abbott) is intrusive upon his first impression asking Allison multiple personal questions. His wife Blair (Sarah Gadon) is far beyond the phase where a woman is emotional during pregnancy. As the couple verbally duke it out in front of Allison, things go wrong fairly quickly; then, everything becomes incredibly ambiguous.
The format of the film is captivating. Nothing is ever evident beyond an intentionally predictable first act leaving the audience on edge. What’s not as hypnotizing is most of the characters. For as engaging as Aubrey Plaza’s character is, her specific role as a filmmaker is a cop-out. It’s always easy to draw inspiration from your film when your character is a filmmaker. You’re always surrounded by the madness of trying to finish a movie when making one. Allison’s occupation as an indie director is familiar territory that almost anyone can use when stuck writing a script. It reminded me of various instances during pre-production, sometimes depending on the film, even on set where someone would say, “what if we went this direction!” Quickly those ideas were shot down because they were a get out of jail free card. That’s not to say I minded the movie’s midpoint twist, but from my experience, I would have cared for something a little more creative.
I’m perfectly fine with a movie where the central cast is loaded with conniving manipulators. If you’re going to do that, make sure that each character has something the audience can latch onto. “There Will Be Blood” is a good example. Daniel Plainview is an irredeemable sickening, greedy businessman. Yet, in his cynical outlook of humanity, we can understand why he is the way he is. “Black Bear” suffers from the case of the entire cast being full of pretentious assholes. When everyone has their egos inflated to the degree of any sneering artist that walked straight out of urban outfitters, it’s difficult for anyone to relate to the pain they endure.
When everything hits its highest anxiety level, I began to feel dizzy with the camera going full Paul Greengrass handheld as everyone is getting intoxicated and screaming at the top of their lungs, and crying uncontrollably for a solid thirty minutes. The molding of the film’s clay, along with Ms. Plaza’s sensational performance, rises above the faults I found in the picture. For a movie inspired by slasher and isolation films, “Black Bear” does an admirable job playing the middle ground providing an original enough experience for it to stand above the typical thriller.