The Movie Waffler New Release Review [VOD] - ULTRASOUND | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [VOD] - ULTRASOUND

ultrasound review
A late night encounter takes a strange turn for a stranded traveller.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Rob Schroeder

Starring: Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool, Tunde Adebimpe, Rainey Qualley, Bob Stephenson

ultrasound poster

I’ll give Ultrasound, the lo-fi sci-fi debut feature from Conor Stechschulte (writer) and Rob Schroeder (director), this much; the opening is perhaps the most riveting and intriguing 15 or so minutes of cinema you’ll see this year. Within a horror film mise-en-scene - hammering night time rain, backwoods, a shotgun shack - some bloke gets a tyre blowout (via, as a dramatically ironic close up informs us, spikes purposefully spread across the road - yikes!). Your man (Glen - Vincent Kartheiser) rushes to the nearest house (the aforementioned shack) where he is welcomed enthusiastically (almost TOO enthusiastically, etc) by the residents of the hovel: a gregarious older fella (Bob Stephenson) and his cuter, younger and demonstrably vulnerable wife (Chelsea Lopez - a charm throughout).

ultrasound review

The performances are deliciously ‘off’ from these denizens; they are weird in that abstract way which makes your skin crawl, but you can’t quite define why. We know Glen shouldn’t be there, and he probably senses he shouldn’t be there either, yet he stays anyway, perhaps due to the convivial urgency of his host or maybe because he fancies putting one on his wife. The nearest garage is shut, after all. The weather is absurdly inclement. There’s also some sort of moonshine on the go... And then, soon enough, when it’s time for bed, the husband announces that he is going to take the sofa and gently urges Glen to pop on into the marriage bed with his wife. They’re sex people, Lynn!

Come on. How would you play it? Glen’s partner has (apparently) left him. This particular marriage is loveless. The poor woman is willing, and able, and in deep seated need of love (what might Abraham Maslow advise?!). The whole scenario has the thrilling life-finally-imitates-art patina of the silliest pornography, and you could have the starring role, you handsome stud, you. Obviously, Glen shags her. And, just when you expect him to be murdered to death as part of the ongoing sex festival, we abruptly cut to an indeterminate time in the future where we catch up with the happy-go-lucky traveller, who IS ACTUALLY MARRIED AFTER ALL, and witness his re-encounter with the cuckolded husband, who cheerfully informs Glen that his (the man’s) wife is pregnant by him (Glen). Yikes, indeed!

ultrasound review

What a tangled web of betrayal, human impulse and priapic weakness. Fantastic stuff. Just the ticket, and related by low-key performances which are believable, and which communicate a situation that is queasily relatable. What a shame then that Ultrasound suddenly morphs into an airless narrative about a noise which can implant memories into participating listeners, and it turns out that that this opening sequence so referable and interesting was (perhaps) one of these mad little false memories, too. I say perhaps because, after watching the film one and a half times (I skipped again to key scenes after a full watch through), I’m still not really sure what is meant to be going on (and I’m not dim - in a moment I correctly use the word ‘diegesis’). Switching wholesale to a clinic where people are encouraged to play out scenarios, which the narrative duly visualises (but which do not actually ‘happen’ within the diegesis of the movie), the focus of Ultrasound becomes one of appearance versus reality; what those shadows in Plato’s cave mean. The circumstances are anchored by graphic references to pregnancy (UltraSOUND, yeah?), which do give the film moments of cringing body horror. But otherwise, it’s all so opaque and antiseptic.

Ultrasound invites us to question the veracity of what we see, but, of course, none of it is ‘real’: it’s a film! We engage with it as a fiction. I’ve never held much truck with the supposedly ingenious twist of The Usual Suspects, wherein we discover that everything we’ve seen is a load of old [SPOILER] flannel made up by the central character. What’s so clever about that? Isn’t the first rule your English teacher insists upon is that ending your story with the cop-out ‘it was all a dream’ is verboten, the cheapest of tricks? Ultrasound’s mishandling of narrative cinema isn’t knowing or iconoclastic, but ponderous and circumlocutionary.

ultrasound review

A digression: recently, for my book club, I’ve been reading 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?', a novel which deals within a similar sci-fi set of simulacra and shifting verisimilitudes, and as I’m reading I’m making notes about how and why Mr. Dick was the most unfilmable of all seminal novelists, inspiring the loosest of adaptations (the tediously overrated film version of 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' sells itself on hyper-real imagery at the expense of the novel’s cynical comedy and playful grasp of reality, an encompassing visual set which betrays the advertising roots of its director). Perhaps it's because the written word inspires movies in our mind, which the expert writing of Dick can manipulate and disturb in a way which film, in which we implicitly accept what we see, and recognise as a working fiction, isn’t as given to? I dunno. And even though Ultrasound does pick up towards the end, engendering a sense of urgency which the prior dreams and false memories of its protagonists have so far failed to achieve, you might likewise still have no idea what is going on. But, more pertinently, you won’t care either.

Ultrasound is on UK/ROI VOD from June 20th.

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