US | 2019 | Directed by Mitzi Peirone
Logline: Two young women on the run decide to rob their wealthy psychotic friend who lives in the fantasy world they created as children, but to take the money they have to take part in a perverse and deadly game of make believe.
Petula (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda (Susan Hay) lay sprawled on a filthy floor, counting cash, sorting a drug stash, hatching plans. But the long arm of the law has reached their grimy apartment, so it’s time to skedaddle, quick smart. The young women jump a train and do some fancy fingersmith work in order to escape the clutches of those they’ve temporarily evaded, Tilda stealing a purse, and Petula prizing fare in exchange for a bootlick from a dirty conductor. These girls are adept at getting out of trouble, but they’re jumping from the saucepan and into the fire.
Arriving at a majestic, but intimidating upstate NY property, where their childhood friend Daphne (Madeline Brewer) dwells alone (with her demons), the scallywags have now donned more classy threads, for they know what’s required (but not what lies around the corner). The huge Renaissance mansion was where the young women frolicked as children, and now they return as adults to play once again, and purloin Daphne’s inheritance moolah to pay for their sins.
But they mustn’t forget the house rules: #1 Everyone must play, #2 No outsiders allowed, and #3 Nobody leaves.
What was once up in the treehouse, with each girl roleplaying “mother”, “daughter” and “doctor”, now resumes in the kitchen, but the ante has been upped, the forfeits more severe. If Tilda and Petula wish to find the safe(ty) they’ll need to do what mother says. It seems the accidental fall that happened all those years ago has been injurious in more ways than one. It also seems that the innocent daydreams of youth have now transmogrified into garish nightmares. Indeed, in this topsy-turvy tenebrous world the fabric of reality is only as firm as one’s loyalty, and that can be twisted and torn as easy as apple pie.
Delving deep into the realms of fantasy and illusion from narratives gone by, writer/director Mitzi Peirone has fashioned an exquisite-looking study of fractured identities, unreliable memories, and desperate remedies, a danse macabre. Indeed, an oneirdynia of voluptuous abandon and violent repercussion told with a masterful control of the elements, a la 60s and 70s cinema; the paranoia/madness of Repulsion and The Tenant, the deception and duplicity of The Ballad of Tam Lin, the exotic allure and sensuality of Daughters of Darkness, the Gothic textures and unhinged logic of Suspiria and Inferno, the chaos and fetishism of Daisies. It’s a melting pot of cinema magic.
A mystical veneer that threads with an hallucinogenic edge that screws with mythological symbolism. Weaving like an endless braid.
For her feature debut Peirone exhibits a vivid talent as director and wields an uncompromising perspective on storytelling, with huge props to Todd Banhazi’s spectacular cinematography - careering through psychedelic colour and raw monochrome, Annie Simeone’s elaborate production design coupled with Lindsay Stephen’s detailed set decoration, and the furious editing by David Gutnik, it’s a truly impressive collaboration. The three leads - Waterhouse, Hay, and Brewer - are sensational, exuding arrogance, sassiness, vulnerability and bewilderment with aplomb, while composer Michael Gatt provides a suitably dramatic score, amidst the effective use of several classical cues.
Stumbling through this kaleidoscopic realm the audience struggles to keep up, the rabbit hole winds deeper and deeper, the threat of violence escalates, the grasp on sanity slips. Just who is manipulating who? What are the truths? What moments are memories? Will the madness and absurdity ever end??
We are only as resilient as our dreams are fragile, only as vulnerable as our desires are real.
I feel it is inevitable Braid will be my favourite movie of the year, as nothing else I’ve seen is as richly atmospheric, as provocative and elusive, as sexy and dangerous, as frustrating and rewarding, as gorgeous and grotesque in deliciously equal measure, and I doubt anything I see in the next few months will be quite as extraordinary. Peirone has delivered an instant cult classic. Embrace it, or die trying.