Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine.

Starring Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbot, Sarah Gadon.

Drama, US, 104 minutes.


Released in the UK by Vertigo Releasing

Reviewed as part of Glasgow Film Festival ’21. Available from 27th February – 2nd March


BLACK BEAR is the sort of tricksy film that is difficult to review but easy to endorse. There is much to recommend but to say exactly what and to go into specifics would spoil the film, robbing the viewer of its subtle surprises and hints of the riddles that may or may not lie at the heart of it. What can be talked about is the film’s opening act, where Allison, a filmmaker arrives at a remote retreat run by musician Gabe and his heavily pregnant partner Blair. Once the customary introductions are made with each other we are witness to a dinner scene that stretches on into an increasingly uncomfortable evening where the strained relationship between Gabe and Blair is needled and prodded at by Allison, who seems oddly amused by the tension she is causing.


From here the film spins off in a surprising direction that should be mostly be left for the viewer to discover and experience on their own. The premise of what has come before may be similar but is approached from a different angle. It casts what has come before in a whole new light immediately leaving the viewer behind to play catch up and question what has come before.


What follows is an exercise in barely controlled chaos, expertly directed and brilliantly played by its core trio. Christopher Abbot and Sarah Gadon spark furiously off each other as Gabe and Blair. Abbot, whose impressive performance in Brandon Cronenberg’s POSSESSOR is no doubt still fresh in the memories of those who watched it, gives a prickly performance here of an unhappy figure whilst Gadon, who also collaborated with Cronenberg on his earlier ANTIVIRAL, is every bit as impressive with her portrayal of an equally dissatisfied thirtysomething whose resentment is simmering underneath ready to surface. Most impressive however is Plaza. Always an engaging, offbeat presence since her days on PARKS AND RECREATION through to the surreal Marvel series LEGION, she gives here her most impressive performance to date. Seemingly in control at the beginning she then spins her character around one hundred and eighty degrees displaying a range of emotion that has been hidden onscreen until now.


The image of Plaza’s Allison sitting alone on a pier in a red swimsuit, is repeated throughout, each time casting the film off into a kaleidoscopic style where mind games are played not only among the characters but with the audience too. Its psychological riddles linger in the memory for long after its first viewing. Reminiscent at times of Robert Altman and Olivier Assayas with its at times freewheeling style that likes to indulge in overlapping dialogue and frenetic environments BLACK BEAR never forgets to entertain whilst indulging in puzzling and perhaps even hoodwinking its audience.


The films fleeting final shot ties the film up in a knot that we are left to pick at, to try and unravel and straighten out. Thankfully it is accomplished with a sense of playfulness and grace that leaves the viewer not with a sense of frustration but eagerness to revisit the film again to see just what Allison is up to every time we encounter her sitting at the end of that deserted pier.


Iain MacLeod.


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