Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA/Canada, 2020. Lionsgate. Screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian. Cinematography by Hillary Spera. Produced by Sev Ohanian, Natalie Qasabian. Music by Torin Borrowdale. Production Design by Jean-Andre Carriere. Costume Design by Heather Neale. Film Editing by Will Merrick.
Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a bright, promising young woman who is looking forward to college, anxiously checking the mail every day to see if she has been accepted at any of the colleges she has applied to. If it’s good news it will be a big change from her small life, she’s been home-schooled by her devoted mother Diane (Sarah Paulson) who is also fully devoted to taking care of her many needs: Chloe is in a wheelchair, has heart issues and asthma, living a carefully scheduled and arranged life that allows her to pursue her intellectual goals without putting herself at any physical risk. Something changes when, one random day, a question about medication evokes a strange response in her mother, Diane’s behaviour starts to get cagey and her responses become overly pacifying, as if she is trying to keep a secret from her daughter that she doesn’t want her to know. Naturally, this only inspires more curiousity in Chloe who starts manipulating situations around her in order to get to the bottom of what turns out to be a very dark truth about who she is and what has been going on without her knowing it for so long. This won’t be easy, since apart from her physical limits, Chloe’s mother doesn’t allow her access to the internet (which should have been her first clue, really) and needs to investigate her curiousity with great stealth (the film’s greatest moment, a shot of her using her mom’s computer late at night while being watched from a distance, it sends chills up your spine). There’s a real-life, relatively recent criminal case that has become pop-culture fodder thanks to a very popular documentary about it, whose details have been inserted into the plotlines of a number of films and television shows in the last few years including this one, and it’s not possible to specify which one it is without spoiling this one’s fun surprises (but if you want it spoiled, click here, and don’t say I didn’t warn you). This enjoyable, efficient and perfectly acted thriller isn’t the deepest of the bunch and never pretends to be, in fact director Aneesh Chaganty treats his audience with a great deal of respect by dropping a big clue early on to let the audience in on the truth before telling his main character about it, upping the suspense by teasing us with the torture of watching to see how quickly she can catch up and take care of business. Paulson, an actor who has never been afraid to play any aspect of a character, good or bad, makes for a wonderful antagonist to Allen, who carries the lead role of an entire film effortlessly in her film debut. It’s a film with a familiar structure and rather overdoes its twists by the end, it would have had more chance at being a respectable drama if it was about the actual madness of motherhood (it’s ultimately just a story of crime and punishment), but it does satisfy; throughout its running time the plot hits all of its familiar points on schedule, but does so with fine-tuned precision.