Black Bear – Film Review

Writer’s block is given centre stage in the inventive, suspenseful meta drama that is Black Bear. Interweaving genres as its protagonist filmmaker settles into a remote, eerie setting at a cabin in the woods to cure a case of writer’s block, Black Bear embraces unknown territory with its unpredictable trajectory in a compelling example of a storytelling masterclass. Black Bear is insightful whilst it delves into the filmmaking and writing process but simultaneously unsettling as it delves further into the human psyche as part of the process. The result is a journey following an imagination let loose in a film that envelopes dreamy aesthetics and mind games to question the power of the mind with an emphasis on what fiction is and what is the construct of reality.

Black Bear contains all of the essential ingredients for a horror film – a remote, misty setting, isolation, strange noises outside by night and the film plays on these tropes to blur those boundaries further. It is never obvious exactly which path will be explored as Black Bear displays the horrors of the mind and human behaviour to full effect. There is bullying, violence, betrayal against the backdrop of the notion that writing for film is a pure art. Allison as the filmmaker, excellently played by Aubrey Plaza, is seen writing, and taking notes by hand highlighting the use of pure art forms without reliance on technology out there in the woods.

Aubrey Plaza in Black Bear
Aubrey Plaza in Black Bear

The human condition is explored fully as the characters and their insecurities are pitted against each other in a Machiavellian plot which seems to be all for the sake of art. The true master behind the game seems to be the film and the writing development with many sacrifices made to achieve the perfection. Black Bear therefore subscribes to that notion of having to suffer to be considered a true artist. Sadistic and masochistic behaviour is on display throughout with emotions used as a tool to achieve that perfect scene reminiscent of Black Swan by Darren Aronofsky. The level of cruelty on display seems complicit as many emotional thresholds are crossed but who truly gains and who truly suffers? There is method acting on display – but is it necessary to lose oneself fully or destroy others to reach that artistic goal?

The film unveils such hidden questions in this pursuit of artistic greatness. The dynamics between the three central characters is electrifying to watch. Lawrence Michael Levine has created this captivating spine-tingling, angst-ridden work of art designed to warp minds and invoke inner horrors and fears, through its simple premise and claustrophobic atmosphere. Darkly comedic in its tone, Black Bear was conceived by Levine during a feverish moment. This sense of delirium, feeling discombobulated and not quite oneself pervades the film with a sinister deliciousness. This unconscious pleasure also derives from watching a calculated selfishness unravel secure in the knowledge that there is a distance between the characters’ behaviours and the viewer to provoke that inner reflection. Allison describes herself as being ‘bad’ on several occasions and the degree of extreme, unadulterated behaviour and abandonment to the excesses of the imagination is enthralling to witness.

Christopher Abbott in Black Bear

The cinematography provides the perfect tool for the initiation of the immersion into the psyche with a still, lingering shot of Allison’s face staring out on to the horizon, which may be reflective of the viewer’s experience of that uncertainty within the abyss that is Black Bear. Plaza delights and entices as Allison, unfurling that dangerous rage as both the heartbroken and the heartbreaker with a tour de force but seems to conform to the stereotype of an unhinged woman. The overall effect is explosive particularly when watching the sizzling chemistry between herself and Christopher Abbott.

Levine teases the engaging performance out of the characters thereby luring the audience into this Black Bear world hypnotically with its seductive lack of morals. Coupled with the unnerving cinematography, psychological tension and being a Sundance hit, Black Bear’s innovative storytelling and gripping filming techniques will be setting the bar high for genre defying filmmaking.

Black Bear is released on UK and Irish digital platforms on 23 April 2021

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