The Movie Waffler SXSW 2023 Review - UNTIL BRANCHES BEND | The Movie Waffler


Until Branches Bend review
A cannery worker is ostracised by her community when she finds an invasive bug in a peach.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sophie Jarvis

Starring: Grace Glowicki, Alexandra Roberts, Quelemia Sparrow, Lochlyn Munro, Antoine DesRochers

Until Branches Bend poster

With her feature debut Until Branches Bend, director Sophie Jarvis (working with story editors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) poses the question of what if Erin Brockovich wasn't smart, sassy and sexy, but rather a socially awkward introvert who struggles to hold a simple conversation with another human, let alone take on a company. The answer is a uniquely rewarding spin on the environmental thriller sub-genre.

Until Branches Bend review

Robin (Grace Glowicki) works at a cannery in rural Canada. While her co-workers gossip and joke around her, Robin just smiles. It's clear she has little in common with these people. One lunchtime Robin finds a wormhole in a peach, from which emerges a strange insect. Trapping it in a jar, she takes the bug to her boss Dennis (Lochlyn Munro), with whom she's been having an affair. Dennis and his own superior assure Robin that the bug is harmless, yet suspiciously request that she not mention her discovery to anyone else.

The bug in her jar becomes a bee in Robin's bonnet, as she takes to Google and is disturbed at its similarities to the highly invasive spear beetle. When Robin shows a picture she took of the bug to a local scientist, the cannery, along with the surrounding peach fields, are shut down for investigation. With the welfare of the town under threat, Robin becomes a pariah. At a town hall meeting Dennis claims she never brought the bug to him, making her look unstable.

Until Branches Bend review

In the past, a movie like Until Branches Bend might have opted for "strong woman" clichés and have Robin stand up to the townsfolk and her superiors at the cannery. In recent years, with the emergence of so many women filmmakers, we're now being treated to a much broader range of female protagonists as women directors seize the opportunity to portray their heroines as relatable rather than aspirational. Robin might cruelly be described as a trainwreck, but things seemed to be going along okay for her prior to her discovery. In her first interaction with Dennis we see a bubbly young woman who clearly enjoys this man's company, even if she's awfully naïve in doing so. But there's something brittle, perhaps something undiagnosed about Robin, and Glowicki plays the part like a dog that's been kicked by most of the humans it has encountered. Her impatience with people hints at Asberger's, and she's often her own worst enemy. Attempting to schedule an abortion (it's never made clear if Dennis is the father), Robin continually misses appointments and acts as though it's the clinic's fault.

As Robin is ostracised by her community, and with her younger sister Laney (Alexandra Roberts) leaving town, she retreats into a world of obsession, tearing open peaches and scouring trees for a sight of the bug. When she curls up on her kitchen floor surrounded by sticky peach detritus, it's an image that recalls the closing shot of Gene Hackman having torn apart his apartment looking for a bug of another kind in The Conversation. Robin's instability doesn't help her cause, and you can see why some of the townsfolk might find her claims easy to dismiss.

Until Branches Bend review

In some moments Jarvis takes her movie into eco-horror territory, through jolting daydreams experienced by the increasingly mentally ravaged Robin, and through shots of the devastation nature can cause if it decides not to play by our enforced rules. The ostracisation of Robin alludes to European folk-tales of strange women living on the edge of town marked as witches. In one of the movie's final, most striking images, Robin embraces the dark forces of nature in what looks like a pagan coming together of elemental forces. It's as though off screen she made some secret pact with nature, invoking a biblical revenge on the town. Given how she's been treated, we couldn't begrudge her for doing so.

Until Branches Bend
 plays at the SXSW Film Festival from March 13th.

2023 movie reviews