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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

‘Brightwood’ Review – Minimalist Relationship Thriller Gets Lost in Its Own Time Loop

The prickliest challenge for indie time-loop thrillers like Dane Elcar’s Brightwood to overcome is simple: can you entertain an audience with minimalist repetition? Elcar utilizes nothing more than a suburban pondside trail, two actors, and the temporal puzzlement of purgatorial duplication. Your mileage will vary with an almost 90-minute mindbender that’s as barebones as a Bear Grylls camping trip due to the stripped-down nature of a movie running in circles by design. Everything rides on character dissections as reality fractures like a damaged record skipping the same few beats over and over, which may or may not be enough to pull viewers through Elcar’s conversationally dependent, light-and-breezy nightmare.

Dana Berger stars as Jen, and Max Woertendyke as her husband Dan — an Anywhere, America couple needing therapy, reconciliation, or divorce. Jen decides to go for a brisk jog through local wilderness routes, and Dan tags along to make a half-hearted, short-of-breath attempt at spending quality time together. It doesn’t go well as Jen and Dan bicker about his flirtatious behavior toward Jen’s coworkers, so Jen leaves Dan behind for a few lone laps. Around she goes, blasting music and chasing a runner’s high to forget Dan’s buffoonery, until she notices that the area’s entrance and exit pathway has disappeared — where a forest wall now exists.

Brightwood follows similar rules as Dead End (2003) or Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020), where everyday life becomes a roundabout loop with seemingly no escape. Jen and Dan are stuck tracing the same retraced steps since entering their cardio hellscape, with an autumnal background that offers no reprieve. There’s not much to Brightwood outside existential questions about why these doomed lovers are punished by time lords, which runs thin even at 80-ish minutes. Elcar’s downplayed Mumblecore sci-fi approach relies on body doubles and multiplying headphone sets to stoke suspense around Jen and Dan’s unreality, which puts pressure on the dynamics of a crumbling relationship to hold our attention.


Berger and Woertendyke find more dread in loveless marriages than hooded figures blocking their paths, as Elcar refits time loop mechanics as an allegory for marital deflation. Jen’s enthusiastic frustrations with Dan as he belittles his partner’s valid emotional exhaustion is a highlight of Brightburn, as the fed-up woman barks cathartic retaliations at her unworthy husband. The monotony of a sensationless relationship is replicated by Jen and Dan’s futile attempts to free themselves from their redundant circle of confusion, complete with versions of themselves that evolve, vanish, or remain unfazed. Berger embraces Jen’s individuality with exceptional agency, pushing back against societal norms that value bland codependency and shaming later-stage breakups or divorces for the sake of independent fulfillment. Elcar’s written dialogue stings as Dan swallows thorny truths about how Jen doesn’t deserve his midlife crisis, made doubly impactful with the cheeky visual imagery that goes on and on with no end in sight.

The problem is, Brightwood struggles to sustain the low-fi genre elements Elcar’s miniscule budget can afford. Storytelling cleverness earns points, but the effectiveness of reveals is unsubtly one-note. There’s nothing epiphanic about Brightwood or the hoodie people Jen and Dan encounter, as Elcar weaves multiple timelines into continuity that explains the past, future, and present all at once. It’s cleanly delivered — confusions or complications aren’t a worry — but that’s almost more frustrating given how Brightwood works relatively linearly despite Jen and Dan finding themselves somewhere without earthly limitations. However interesting Berger and Woertendyke can make their characters’ lust-stolen, passionless partnership concerning their new simulation of existence, Elcar doesn’t successfully sell his feature’s length. Even under that golden 90-minute milestone.

On a conceptual level, Brightwood is an exciting analysis of romantic expectations that breaks rules and condemns pleasureless norms. In execution, Brightwood solves its own puzzles too early and reveals its hand too often. Berger and Woertendyke show tremendous stamina as performers who don’t need a supporting cast to siphon energy from — primarily innocent as momentum slows. Brightwood sets sail with interesting themes but ultimately sinks as scenes blur into a landscape of dried-crunchy leaves and “No Swimming” signs, attempting to expose the madness of expecting different results from the same daily routines, without ever conveying ample levels of mania.

2.5 out of 5 skulls

The post ‘Brightwood’ Review – Minimalist Relationship Thriller Gets Lost in Its Own Time Loop appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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