A socially awkward woman named Sarah (Alison Brie) with a fondness for arts and crafts, horses, and supernatural crime shows finds her increasingly lucid dreams trickling into her waking life.
Movies are extremely hard to make. There are so many things you have to do to ensure that you’re making something great. Even movies that are widely considered to be bad have a lot of hard work and dedication put into them, which is why I always respect the filmmaker’s despite the overall result of the film.
But perhaps one of the hardest elements that goes into making a film is the story. Coming up with an original and fresh concept, especially these days, is immensely challenging. There are hundreds of thousands of movies in the world and as a result, there are a lot of concepts out there. A lot of story ideas have already been taken, and if you want to create a wholly original film, you have to ensure that your story is indeed unique and your own.
Jeff Baena’s latest feature Horse Girl truly does have a great concept. It isn’t wholly original, although it did sound incredibly promising. The idea of this woman whose lucid dreams begin to take over her real life is amazing. There is so much potential with that concept, and thus I was quite curious to see what Baena had crafted with this film that was met with a fair amount of praise when it recently had its premiere at the Sundance International Film Festival.
For the most part, this is a movie that succeeds in its story department. A large portion of the story unfolds in a way that is both beautiful and creepy all at the same time. Brie’s character Sarah is one that is easy to follow and we know what she is going through. We get to know her as a person, and she is somebody that you root for. Although the plot was interesting, it took a while for it to get there.
The running time of Horse Girl is just a little over an hour and forty minutes, which is an extremely common running time. That being said, it does feel considerably longer, which is due to its pacing. The first forty five minutes or so set up the last hour. Nothing incredibly exciting or interesting happens until after that forty five minute mark, and so everything leading up to that moment does unfortunately feel rather tame and uneventful. This will also hurt repeat viewings, as the movie does ask for that, but I just cannot help but feel like people won’t want to rewatch it because it just drags for a while.
Gratefully though, the final hour is an amazing and beautifully bizarre thrill-ride that was boosted with great cinematography by Sean McElwee and an eerie score by Josiah Steinbrick, Jeremy Zuckerman, and Tolga Kahraman.
All of the performances are good for the most part as well. The true standout here is Brie, who feels extremely vulnerable in this role. While it does feel like she sort of overacts at times, especially in the first act, after a while her acting improved greatly and she disappeared into her role. Also good here is Molly Shannon as Joan and Debby Ryan as Nikki. However, it would have been nice if their characters were given some more development, as they do largely feel like characters that were pushed to the side for the most part.
But at the end of the day, Horse Girl is most certainly an impressively crafted film that also has something to say. It has to do with mental illness and once you figure out the grand picture of what everything is about and what the story means, it all becomes much more thought-provoking. I just wish that the first forty five minutes were as entertaining and interesting as the final hour was.
Horse Girl takes a while for its story to get going, but once it gets into gear, it excels in its beautifully bizarre and thought-provoking themes.
Overall Grade: B-
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality, graphic nudity and drug use
Directed by: Jeff Baena
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: February 7, 2020 (United States)
Running Time: 104 minutes