A film about… checks notes …gaslighting. This compelling premise’s execution is its undoing; from its subpar direction to its erroneous pacing.
In the center of everything that’s wrong with Rob Schroeder’s ‘Ultrasound’ is an actually quite interesting premise: Hypnotism is made possible through how humans respond to a certain sound wave frequency. It implants the false idea into the brain and the frequency helps your mind create a scenario to convince you the idea is real. It’s all explained excellently and coherently.
The trouble comes when this hypnotism plot is applied with characters and narrative. Yes, it’s as if Wiseau read the script and made it himself, but I’d also say this is what you’d get if you gave the Coen Brothers the script for ‘The Room’.
In this psychological thriller, we follow an assortment of characters as we move through a complicated myriad of moving parts with the idea of hypnotism at the center. We meet Glen who was hypnotized by Art into thinking he impregnated his wife, Cyndi, who was hypnotized into thinking Art is her husband, who was her old teacher but it actually turns out Glen was her teacher, and then somewhere else in the story, Art helps out a senator by hypnotizing his baby mama.
I hope you guys enjoyed that run-on sentence but that doesn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg of how much of a mess this film is. Oh yeah, if you haven’t seen the movie, there are major spoilers up ahead.
To make matters worse, the story is told semi-non-linearly. The premise is realized way too late in the movie and as a result, I felt I was playing catch up with everything we watched unfold. In the same way, Zack Snyder’s ‘Man of Steel’ was bombarded with constant flashbacks, ‘Ultrasound’ couldn’t escape them. Some were essential while the others just weren’t needed. Granted, some gave way to some of the film’s more enticing plot twists, but the ones that weren’t needed were just reminders or repeats of what we’ve already seen.
In addition to the hexagonal character interdependence, we are introduced to a B-plot that involves a senator and his baby mama. Do we need this? Short answer: No. It only adds to the confusion of what the film is about and only muddles the mystery at play. The editing didn’t relieve any of the narrative flaws. We jumped from scene to scene willy-nilly, boy did this film need a recut. If the ‘Godfather III’ can be fixed with some editing, so can this hypnotism piece.
In addition to a great idea in the center, the idea of hypnotism felt rounded out and perfectly explained. In the end, when its premise was applied to its hollow characters and unnecessarily complex and multifaceted narrative execution the film fell flat on its face. ‘Ultrasound’ cannot shake the feeling of an aptly funded student film. With a very ‘Black Mirror’ premise, you’d expect some sort of visual personality to be paired with the originality of its plot. Instead of this, it seemed the visuals only served to tell the story at hand instead of heightening it.
There are two things that I rarely take notice of if the writing and direction are exceptional: dialogue and shot compositions. With great visuals, dialogue can be completely thrown out the window (case in point: ‘Baby Driver’) On that same coin, with great writing I couldn’t care less about how the scene is blocked (case in point: ‘Being John Malkovich’). In ‘Ultrasound’, the dialogue is, to its detriment, elementary at best.
Exposition is mostly, if not wholly expressed out of the mouth of our characters– even when it doesn’t fit. But the film can’t help itself, without the dialogue, we are left speculating inside its lack of visual storytelling.
30 minutes into the film, we, as an audience, realize hypnotism is at play through dialogue. For the first 30 minutes, we sit through antagonizing jumpcuts from scene to scene without any context. Some can call this decision all in the name of a tantalizing mystery, but in all honesty, it’s absolutely frustrating. To add to its student film feel, every actor had little to no chemistry between their co-stars. Everyone said their lines and absorbed the spotlight and moved on.
In the end, ‘Ultrasound’ achieves nothing and does little to fully realize its riveting premise. Which is a shame because the idea of hypnotism has had a bit of a revival with Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Nightmare Alley’, Jordan Peele’s revolutionary ‘Get Out’, and more obscurely, ‘George of the Jungle 2’. Schroeder does his best to fill its 103-minute runtime but there’s still much fat to trim from its final cut in order for its story to be cohesive.
‘Ultrasound’ is now playing select theaters and VOD.
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