Sundance 2023

Sometimes I Think About Dying review – mediative portrait has Daisy Ridley’s best performance yet

Rachel Lambert's second film is an enigmatic look at high-functioning depression with a quietly mesmerising turn at its centre

In the throes of depression, finding beauty in the mundane can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. Rachel Lambert’s portrait of high-functioning clinical depression begins – somewhat ironically, then – with shots of unexpected beauty in the banal of Oregon’s coastline. Apples are rotting by a drain, a hesitant deer crosses the pavement, and pigeons swarm an old man’s home as grey smoke curdles into the sky above him. Then isolated Fran (Daisy Ridley) rouses from unsatisfying sleep and begins her daily routine of introversion, Sometimes I Think About Dying launching into a portrait of a person who exists but craves the experience of living.

Lambert’s haunting sophomore film captures, with measured empathy, resenting the morning alarm and dreading office small talk (colleagues include the buoyant Marcia Debonis and Megan Stalter) to the point that you'd rather be dead. Thanks to Dustin Lane’s studious cinematography and Daisy Ridley’s watchable brooding, it’s barely noticeable that it takes fifteen minutes before we hear the reclusive Fran mutter anything other than “sorry.” Lingering by the coffee machine like a misplaced piece of beige office decor, she bides her time until she can retreat home to her indulgent cottage cheese dinner and welcoming bed.

A soldier in a war against herself, Fran’s sudden turn into a no man’s land of avoided emotions comes with the arrival of bald and bearded Robert (Dave Merheje). He’s new to town and the office dynamics, a welcome distraction from spreadsheets with his confident stride, comforting smile and cinema trip invites. Moments once faded into one another, but with Robert time moves differently and poses new opportunities as Fran begins to locate feelings of both intimate and epic proportions.

A contemplative and humming score further extracts a longing from Fran as her daydreams of dying are interspersed across the brief, 90-minute runtime. Here, Lane’s stylish and evocative vignettes of Fran becoming one with nature, returning to the ground and being swallowed by the earth, illustrate the numbing feeling of existential dread in a way that dialogue never could. One moment she’s fixing dinner; the next a spectral Fran is lying in a secluded, mystical magical forest with tiny bugs crawling all over her skin. The interruptions are simultaneously enchanting and disconcerting, resulting in a curious blend that fluctuates with the film’s occasional sparks of joy.

At the centre of this slow-burn dramedy is Daisy Ridley’s finest performance to date; a quietly mesmerising turn conducted with a sombre interiority. The desire to be included collides with the terrifying prospect of being known, but in Ridley’s tender grasp the most pressing issue is the anxious conundrum of not knowing what to do with your hands. “It’s hard, isn’t it? Being a person,” one of Fran’s colleagues mumbles, the closest this touching film ever gets to spelling out its hardy thesis. Such unanswerable musings underscore an enigmatic work which reaches a stabbing emotional ending with a knife twist that even overshadows the gut-wrenching visions of Fran’s daydreams.

Sometimes I Think About Dying was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival 2023. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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