The Movie Waffler First Look Review - COMA | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - COMA

Coma review
A suicidal teen is driven down a dark path by a sinister online influencer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Bertrand Bonello

Starring: Louise Labeque, Julia Faure

Coma poster

The lockdowns of the COVID pandemic feel like a lifetime ago and yet we're still seeing the release of films that were shot under those restrictive conditions. While most of us were making sourdough bread and wearing our PJs all day long, the world's filmmakers were busying themselves by shooting whatever they could in the confines of their homes. Bertrand Bonello was no different. In 2021 he shot Coma in his home and a secluded forest. In contrast with most of the filmmakers who did likewise, Bonello has created something worthwhile here, a film that is often baffling, frequently entertaining and ultimately touching.

Coma review

Dedicated to his then 18-year-old daughter, Bonello's film is a father expressing empathy for what young people were enduring at that specific time, and the trials they face entering adulthood in this increasingly uncertain post-pandemic landscape. It's the cinematic equivalent of a father trying to heal their kid's anxieties by making shadow puppets on a wall lit by flashes of lightning during an angry storm.

The film is centred on an unnamed teenager played by Bonello's Zombi Child star Louise Labèque. As was the case with most teens during lockdown, she's bored senseless, seeking a way to escape the mundanity of being stuck in her bedroom. She does this through Zoom calls with her friends, during which they debate the merits of their favourite serial killers. She imagines a soap opera being played out by her childhood dolls, who come to life through stopmotion and are voiced by French stars Laetitia Casta, Vincent Lacoste, Louis Garrel, Anaïs Demoustier and the late Gaspard Ulliel. She often dreams of being trapped in a forest surrounded by strangers clad in what looks like the eerie mask Ryan Gosling dons at the end of Drive. She becomes obsessed with Patricia Coma (Julia Faure), an online influencer with the sinister, ethereal presence of a vampire in a Jean Rollin movie. She seems to harbour suicidal feelings.

Coma review

Coma plays out in what amounts to a series of vignettes, cutting between the dollhouse soap opera, Patricia Coma's YouTube clips, and the teenager's anxiety, both in the real world and the dream forest. Most of it's played for (often cheap and crude) laughs, but the influencer subplot grows increasingly disturbing as we realise the malign influence she's having on the teen. A game called "The Revelator", which involves pressing coloured buttons in a specific sequence, is sold by Patricia to the teen, and it becomes a key prop in a philosophical diatribe about determinism. Try as she might, the teenager finds she can't get the sequence wrong, winning the game at every attempt. But when she's in the limbo forest she finds she has the ability to fail. Patricia appears in the girl's dream, telling her that only in this limbo state can she truly exercise free will. As a counterpoint, Bonello adds a a clip of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze intoning that you should avoid getting caught in someone else's dream. The dream forest reminds us of Twin Peaks' Black Lodge, with its eternally trapped Laura Palmer, and we fear the worst for the teenage girl.

A lot of viewers will dismiss Coma as pretentious and many will view it as a throwaway diversion made to keep a filmmaker from going insane while the world was on pause. They both might have a point, but there's a sincerity to Coma that can't be denied. This is a filmmaker exposing his fears as a father, begging his daughter and the young people of the world not to give up, not to fall under the dark spell of those who seek to profit from their misery. He ends his film with Winston Churchill's quote, "If you're going through Hell, keep going." Bonello's apprehensions seem so lucid that I had to check if he had lost his daughter to suicide and this was a letter delivered too late from a parent filled with regret, but thankfully that isn't the case.

Coma review

Amid all the passionate pleading and pseudo-philosophy is a striking turn by Faure, an actress who has spent the past decade in minor roles but who delivers a performance here that suggests she's destined for full-on movie star status. It's easy to see why an impressionable teen might fall under the spell of Patricia Coma, who as embodied by Faure is the very model of confidence and glamour, but Bonello gives us a late image of Patricia that suggests her taunting of her young audience masks her own insecurities. Faure has collaborated with Quentin Dupieux with small roles in his comedies Deerskin and Smoking Causes Coughing, and many of the comic touches of Coma feel inspired by Dupieux's absurdism. But Coma's darkest moments suggest Bonello is motivated chiefly by personal fears and anxieties that no doubt persist in this post-lockdown world. We've gone through Hell, and yet we still feel the heat on our backs.

Coma is in US cinemas from May 17th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2024 movie reviews