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ULTRASOUND ***

Directed by Rob Schroeder.

Starring Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Bob Stephenson.

Science-fiction, US, 103 minutes.

 

Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2021.

 

Despite its high-tech story ULTRASOUND feels like a throwback in a number of ways. This self-contained sci-fi story with its many twists and turns hearkens back to television anthologies like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS while its paranoid edging also throws back to the political, conspiracy driven American cinema of the early seventies. What at first seems to be a completely random series of storylines soon come together to form a compelling thriller which then goes on to become eerily relevant to today with its allusions to “fake media” and “alternative facts.”

 

When Glen’s car breaks down on a quiet road in the middle of a rain-soaked night he seeks help from Art, a middle-aged and very friendly man who lives nearby. More than happy to give shelter to Glen, Art and his much younger wife Cyndi proposition the confused and alarmed Glen with a request that seems completely inappropriate. Meanwhile in sunny California, Shannon begins a new job at an institution that is offering what promises to be a revolutionary breakthrough for patients suffering from psychological issues.

 

As Glen’s situation develops in ever more surprising ways the connections between the two plot lines and a third involving a politician and his pregnant girlfriend soon become clear. “It’ll all make sense as we go along. I promise!” remarks one character and it is to the credit of director Rob Schroeder and debut scriptwriter Conor Stechstulte, adapting his own graphic novel Generous Bosom, that they manage to keep these story lines concise yet puzzling before rewarding the viewer with gradual revelations that tie everything together.

 

Low in budget but big in ideas this small-scale thriller provides an atmosphere of unease from the off; whether its Glen’s uncomfortable encounter with the strange married couple he entwines himself with or the shadowy medical research facility conducting bizarre medical tests involving audio frequencies. The near otherworldly elements mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar recall early Michael Crichton tales such as COMA and THE TERMINAL MAN, both examples of the paranoid 70’s cinema mentioned earlier. Combined with the current issues also mentioned above it all adds up to a package that is as satisfying as it is disquieting.

 

It is a very promising debut for its writer and director, accomplishing a lot with a small budget. They are aided by a strong cast, especially character actor Bob Stephenson as the overly friendly and more than sinister Art while MAD MEN’s Vincent Kartheiser expertly evokes the audience’s confusion as Glen as he uncovers the truth. What could have been confusing and interminable is crystal clear, edited nicely by Brock Bodell who helps events run along smoothly leading the viewer along and keeping their attention.

 

Raising a lot of questions in regards to gas lighting, consent and reality itself ULTRASOUND is a very worthwhile trip into paranoia, quietly asking its audience to question not only what they have just seen here but elsewhere in this age of media saturation where various degrees of trickery are employed in the everyday.

 

Iain MacLeod.

 

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