2019 | rated R | starring Madeline Brewer, Imogene Waterhouse, Sarah Hay, Scott Cohen | written & directed by Mitzi Peirone | 1 hr 22 mins |

Remember when the Disney adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time came out and director Ava Duverney was called a “visionary” in all the publicity? What writer/director Mitzi Peirone does with the astonishing, assured and un-compromsing debut feature Braid more accurately defines a visionary filmmaker. It’s a circular, tilted, swirling mind-pretzel of a film that lassos you by the neck and drags you along for its ride.

The story starts out front loaded with information in a way that sounds convoluted on paper, but effortless in the telling. Two drug-dealing thieves (Imogne Waterhouse and Sarah Hay), one of which may be a foot model or something, plot a heist to steal the safe from a mentally unstable childhood friend Daphnie (Madeline Brewer, The Handmaid’s Tale) who lives all alone in a mansion, stuck in a House-like game of make-believe that the girls will need to play along with in order to get into the safe.  Trapped in this decaying house, solving riddles, all 3 women start to go mad. In Braid, things go from normal to completely nuts very quickly. We are almost never on level footing and it’s often not clear who believes what and who is playing who.

What’s great about Peirone’s approach to Braid is how the movie itself seems to go along with all the fantasies. It’s full of swooping cameras and dutch angles and florescent pink and purple colors, following our anti-heroes down a rabbit hole of imagination like a hallucinatory Alice in Wonderland as read by David Lynch. When Daphnie’s Mother role has an affair with Waterhouse’s Doctor role, it’s fully clothed sex scene is shot like a normal sex scene. When the game requires a surgery, suddenly the movie turns an empty pool into a full surgical center with proper scrubs and tools. Because the house rules say that nobody can leave, the universe of the movie conspires to keep them there. It’s an adult fairy tale at it’s best and most caustic.

The film’s biggest flaw with the pacing is it’s occasional trips outside of the house to the detective (Scott Cohen) investigating Daphnie (and the suspicious deaths of her parents). The asides feel perfunctory in a movie where almost nothing else does. It’s a lot of screen time for a character destined from the outset for the Scatman Crothers role. The performances from all 3 women go for the gusto, with Brewer slowly building a resume of one of the most talented newcomers, playing Daphnie mad with an air of posh cleverness, Waterhouse with the arc and as close to a hero as the movie has and Hay as the enigmatic accomplice (but whose?). The movie’s final statement twist has been done before, but rarely with this much style and so well earned.

Braid refuses to get pinned down to a genre, it would be too simple to take Daphnie’s murderous tendencies and call the film a horror movie. It’s a visual puzzle box through madness and childhood imagination. A vibrant, buzzy film, filled to the brim with fresh new talent that may confound, inspire and demand rewatches just to uncoil what the hell you just saw. One of the best movies of the year.

 

Bonus-Review:

Cam | 2018 | rated R | starring Madeline Brewer | directed by Daniel Goldhaber | 1 hr 34 mins |

A microscopically small film with a shoestring budget and a straightforward visual style, Cam is elevated to near must-see status by a nifty high concept premise, thoroughly explored, a terrific lead performance from Madeline Brewer carrying the movie on her back and construction from Daniel Goldhaber that finds thrills in web cam chat rooms. Cam looks like it will fall in with the legion of cyber-horror films trying to turn the internet into a portal to the supernatural, but it is oh so much better than that. Alice (Brewer) is an ambitious webcam girl with dreams of climbing the chat room ranks and inventive ways to keep her online admirers excited until one day she wakes up and finds an exact doppleganger of herself on the site. With no way to prove it isn’t her, Alice fights to get her site back while trying to keep the secret of her job from her family.

The first act is an interesting not-so-sleazy look into the fierce competition in the web cam girl world, the second following Alice’s desperation with the film living and dying and in this case soaring on Brewer’s charming but complicated performance (it’s unclear why she’s so driven into web caming other than she’s good at it) and the third act finds Goldhaber pulling off something of a pure cinema miracle, pitting Alice against her double and building a clever, riveting climax out of text and screens. It’s also unclear where her double – who calls herself Lola – comes from, but the few juicy details we are given and Brewer’s duel performance gives it an eerie quality. I kind of loved this little movie.