Review: ‘Horse Girl’ Smoothly Merges Fantasy and Reality

Jeff Baena’s ‘Horse Girl’ is definitely one of the most haunting, heartbreakingly bizarre films I have watched in a while. Despite what the critics currently say, I would urge you to watch it. The film definitely hits you, and hits you hard. While the story remains offbeat and obscure, and definitely has flaws in its ambiguities, ‘Horse Girl’ offers a delicate and unique take on mental illness.

The film also boasts of what is perhaps Alison Brie’s best performance till date. Even before the strange events begin to occur, Sarah remains a sympathetic character that you find yourself rooting for. Brie, who co-wrote the film with Baena, was heavily influenced by the history of mental-illness in her own family. And with how stirring the story feels as it unravels, it definitely shows. SPOILERS ALERT!

Horse Girl Recap:

‘Horse Girl’ centres around Sarah, a mild-mannered, socially awkward but incredibly warm young woman who works at a crafts store. In her spare time, she watched her favourite supernatural sci-fi series, ‘Purgatory’, or goes to watch her childhood horse, Willow. We learn that her mother passed away, and that Sarah often goes to the cemetery where she is buried.

We learn that Sarah lives a lonely existence and has difficulty making friends. Her roommate, Nikki, in order to celebrate Sarah’s birthday, calls her boyfriend’s single roommate, Darren, over. The two hit it off, and seem to instantly like each other. But things slowly begin to take a twisted turn. It starts out with nosebleeds and sleep-walking, and soon, Sarah starts hearing voices, and ends up in places without knowing how she got there. Her dreams grow increasingly vivid and lucid, and we witness her dreams and reality melting into each other. She experiences a strange loss of time, and spots the man from her dream in reality.

Soon, Sarah begins to believe that she’s being abducted by aliens, and that she is, in fact, a clone of her grandmother. The truth behind the history of mental illnesses in her family is gradually revealed as Sarah begins grow increasingly paranoid and loses her mind. Since I don’t want to spoil the ending, I will just say that the film ends in a hauntingly bittersweet way. Sarah does get her happy ending, but it still remains heartbreaking to watch.

Horse Girl Review:

‘Horse Girl’ silently and effectively portrays Sarah’s engulfing loneliness. Watching the film, with all its peculiarities, leaves you with a lump in your throat and an empty feeling in the pit of your gut. Of course, certain things don’t add up, and the lucidity and obscurity of the visuals in the second-half may be frustrating for some.

The film is also a slow-burn, and not as much of a mystery as it is a tragedy. ‘Horse Girl’ is a lot heavier than it initially seems, and that’s exactly what is so appealing about it. It feels as real as it feels unreal as  you don’t know what to expect. This is precisely why Sarah’s brokenness leaves you with a lingering sense of melancholy.

The film smoothly merges genres much like how Sarah’s fantasy and reality become one. Both leave the viewers feeling deceived, which in my opinion, works for a film like this. ‘Horse Girl’ is quirky, heartwarming, mysterious, fantastical and tragic, all at once. By doing this, it manages to stay true to Sarah’s journey as she eventually realizes who she really is. Only, the viewers know that her truth is not the truth. We see things from her point of view. But we also are given the space to see things objectively, which makes us helpless witnesses as Sarah loses herself.

‘Horse Girl’ is definitely more abstract than it needs to be. The viewers, like Sarah, can no longer separate the reality from her delusions. It leaves you feeling restless. But I personally enjoyed not knowing and feeling deceived, as the film subtly manages to put you in Sarah’s shoes.

On a more technical note, despite being a low-budget film, ‘Horse Girl’ is cinematically impressive especially with its visuals and sound. The film makes use of silence in a beautiful but jarring manner particularly in the last moments of the film. The scenes bleed into each other, and with hardly any words spoken, the ending becomes incomprehensible but haunting. Almost like poetry.

Rating: 3/5