Nothing in the woods is as it seems in Black Bear, the mesmerising new feature from writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine. When filmmaker Allison (Audrey Plaza) ventures to a scenic lake house on a retreat in search of inspiration for her next project, she befriends a musician, Gabe (Christopher Abbott), and his pregnant partner, Blair (Sarah Gadon). The group gets off to a good start – but, after a few drinks, jocular debates become much more heated. Events soon come to a head, and in one swift rug-pull moment everything is turned upside down as reality and fiction collapse in on themselves. It all begins with a dock.
Attempting to make logical sense of Levine’s narrative is an almost pointless endeavour and is something that’s best avoided entirely. Allison’s journey is a devilishly delicious ride into the bizarre tinged with undertones of the macabre. If a viewer wants to get the most out of this movie, they need to completely surrender to it and allow it to sweep them away. However, if one insists on picking apart every frame to decipher what is real and what isn’t, there are more than enough clever details and parallels to play film detective with. It’s likely everyone will come away with their own interpretation, too. The script leaves so much room for analysis that this picture demands multiple viewings – and even then fans will probably only scratch the surface of this cinematic rabbit hole.
Though the strangeness of the midway gotcha moment grabs one’s attention, it’s the charged performances that keep the audience thoroughly engaged in what follows. Plaza is phenomenal in what is a career-defining performance. She is the catalyst and the glue as she reaches devastatingly powerful emotional heights. We might not be able to comprehend what is physically happening to her character, but through the acclaimed actress’s portrayal viewers can certainly understand the torment that she’s going through. Abbott and Gadon are also giving their best here. The pair effortlessly transition from one extreme to the next, which is as engrossing as it is unsettling.
Black Bear is an extraordinarily strange film. Whether it’s a dream, a warped version of reality or something much darker, Levine’s feature will undoubtedly fascinate cinephiles for years to come.
Black Bear is released in select cinemas on 23rd April 2021.
Read more reviews from our Glasgow Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Glasgow Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Black Bear here: