Review: Paint it Black – the gothic horror of psychological violence

paint it black (2017)

Violence in cinema is mostly portrayed through gunplay, explosions or hand-to-hand combat. The idea of physical violence is so commonplace in movies that it is one of the most popular categories in the medium (action) and there are even a few directors whose artful depiction of the aforementioned transcend the genre. There is another kind of violence – the emotional/mental kind – that often makes an even greater impact on our psyche. Paint it Black dives deep into that realm and unveils an unsettling psychological gothic drama that leaves scar tissue on your mind.

Synopsis: “What happens to a dream when the dreamer is gone? PAINT IT BLACK is the story of the aftermath of Michael’s death, and Josie’s struggle to hold onto the true world he shared with her. As Josie searches for the key to understanding his death, she finds herself both repelled and attracted to Michael’s pianist mother, Meredith, who holds Josie responsible for her son’s torment. Soon, the two women find themselves drawn into a twisted relationship reflecting equal parts distrust and blind need.”

Rhys Wakefield (Michael) and Alia Shawkat (Josie) in Paint it Black.

Rhys Wakefield (Michael) and Alia Shawkat (Josie) in Paint it Black.

First-time director Amber Tamblyn brings a bold, raw artistry to Janet Finch’s story. Nearly every scene is an open emotional wound of unease, teetering into complete psychosis. The audience feels the walls closing in around them as the escalating psychological tête-à-tête between Josie and Meredith reaches a frantic (and then extremely disquieting) fever pitch.  Tamblyn captures both the physical and emotional violence with a stylized bleakness that never veers into the self-indulgent and ultimately serves to continually push the dread-inducing tension of each encounter. She also contrasts Josie’s relationship with Michael and her current predicament with Meredith with equally fraught detail.

The film ultimately rests with Alia Shawkat and Janet McTeer’s performances (though Rhys Wakefield as Michael perfectly encapsulated the “memory” of someone – if that makes sense…). They are the continually imploding supernovas orbiting the dead star that is the memory of Michael. Will they crash into each other or with they go flying off into the empty space of their own mental breakdowns? That is the unspoken question that haunts both characters.

Janet McTeer as Meredith paint it black

Janet McTeer as Meredith

Shawkat’s performance captures the more relatable downward spiral accompanying the loss of someone so integral to your own existence. With every harried gaze and violent outburst, the sense that a part of herself died with this loss is heavily felt.

In contrast, Meredith’s grief takes the form of jealousy, deceit and a much stronger (or exacerbated) break from reality. Her duplicitous nature, whether intentional or not, combined with her newfound despair makes her actions against Josie seem especially frightening – and McTeer’s performance absolutely haunts us like a malevolent specter in this way.

Visually, the film is a dark, foreboding smorgasbord of evocative, thoughtfully composed shots. It’s very much shot like a ghost story (and in many ways, that is exactly what this film ends up being) which creates a sense of isolation and looming decay that heavies the heart and frays the mind. In short – it looks fucking gorgeous.

paint it black 2017

Paint it Black is not the kind of film that is a “crowd-pleaser” and most definitely not for everyone. It has a very specific palette from which it draws and while that may put some people off, that specificity made the film’s punch land that much harder.

Paint it Black is on VoD for most platforms (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu) so check it out if you’re in the mood for some malicious melancholy.

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