Lawrence Michael Levine’s bizarre melodrama is a compellingly crazy meditation on art and life, with career-best work from Plaza
The wide expanse of natural landscape can make for the perfect thriller setting. A house stood alone amongst gigantic trees, sat on the edge of a misty lake that never seems to end. One can’t help but feel threatened and unsettled by the looming presence of the unknown. Lawrence Michael Levine’s surreal new feature, Black Bear, is acutely aware of this terror, and so utilises it to spellbinding effect.
Black Bear is split into two distinct acts. In the first, titled “Part One: The Bear in the Road,” we meet Allison (Aubrey Plaza), a former-actress-turned-director taking refuge at a remote lake house in the hope that she is hit with some much needed screenplay inspiration. Her hosts, Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon), are a young, married couple with a baby on the way. Allison’s arrival ignites the already bubbling tension between Gabe and Blair; the couple bicker and make constant jibes, while Allison fuels the arguments by being purposely obtuse.
The first part plays out as an awkward and melodramatic display of marital problems and insufferable struggling artists, while part two… well, perhaps it’s best to say as little as possible, since Black Bear is absolutely a film that rewards going in blind. It revels in mindfuckery, contorting its already baffling narrative into something that’s so fascinatingly chaotic you'll need a good moment to take it all in after the credits roll.
Known for her dark, deadpan persona, Plaza’s presence alone is often used as a way of injecting a sense of the jarring into proceedings. And while her signature deadpan style is here in abundance, it merely acts as a starting point for a performance that becomes richer and more captivating as the film shifts and changes lanes. With great support from Abbott and Gadon, she proves her talents extend far beyond just comedy, resulting in her best performance to date.
Nestled amongst its layers of domestic chaos is a sharp, meta-textual take on the often cannibalistic relationship between art and the artist. How much of your sanity are you willing to risk in order to capture the perfect take and, when it comes to filmmaking, who has ultimate control? Black Bear is a slick rumination on personal trauma and the power of primal emotion – proof that even when the director yells “cut,” we are far from out of the woods.
Black Bear is now streaming on various digital platforms.Where to watch