A psychiatrist tries to put her life back together after a violent attack by seeking to repair the life of a new patient, but he has his own terrifying history.
It’s a common precept that many mental health professionals choose their specialty out of sheer fear of the sight of blood, but in Alistair Legrand’s sophomore project, the Netflix original movie Clinical, Dr. Mathis is about to have to endure gallons of the stuff.
Once again joining forces with his The Diabolical writing partner, Luke Harvis, although Clinical certainly ups the visceral ante (big kudos to Autonomous F/X’s majestic makeup), plenty of precious time is spent psychoanalysing the key players so as to facilitate a more personal rapport between the characters and the audience, reeling us into an assiduously informed, shrewd, suspenseful and profoundly poignant premise.
Shaw carries much of the weight of the film on her shoulders as the unravelling, anxiety-ridden, sleep-deprived depressive psychiatrist when exposure therapy brutally backfires on her when trying to treat a young patient (India Eisley). Despite losing all faith in herself after the incident, an unexpected cry for help from an unrecognisably disfigured Kevin Rahm stirs something inside her, compelling her to take on his case.
Shaw and Rahm’s chemistry is nothing short of electric, resulting in some genuinely affecting and fragile tête-à-tête sessions as the good doctor remissly finds comfort in getting candidly intimate with him; all the while giving her own psychiatrist – and long-time colleague (played by William Atherton) – the taciturn treatment. Each and every session is an eye-opener, dealing out some particularly sharp pearls of psychiatric wisdom and spot on performances, all of which is boosted by foreboding flashbacks and inspired photography (the latter provided by John Frost, who also did a bang-up job in Legrand’s directorial debut).
All of the above adds a dimension not far removed from recent hit Nocturnal Animals and you’ll find yourself constantly questioning exactly where this “parallel premise” is taking us. Such an off-kilter technique is never an easy one to pull off as it can so easily detract from the core story but Legrand and Harvis make use of some deftly disciplined-cum-deceptive plotting devices to hold our entire attention and the film’s final twist had me kicking myself for hours as I was convinced things were going to play out in an entirely different manner.
Extra kudos must also go to musician Ian Hultquist (The Diabolical) who once again proves his musical pedigree by scoring another compulsive soundtrack that would feel right at home in any Hollywood blockbuster. And every arrangement has clearly been meticulously devised to amplify the specific emotion each scene intends to convey, be it apathy, frustration, depression, anxiety or whatever other sensation you’d like to add to this list.
Before bringing things to a close, unless I was reading too much into certain aspects, this reviewer found the film oftentimes adopting a scathing soapbox approach dropping various piercing references to society’s vehement reliance on quick fix meds in lieu of behavioural therapies despite the latter having been proven more beneficial in the long-term. Maybe that was just me but it certainly did feel like a major impetus behind the film.
Netflix is already proving itself a/the horror force to be reckoned with, having released a diverse range of fresh and unique movies with the likes of Spectral, Rebirth and I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House – all of which put most big theatrical horror releases to shame. Well, the same can be said for Clinical which is yet further proof that the heavyweight streaming champion of the world won’t be letting its guard down any time soon.
Clinical is available on Netflix everywhere from Friday, January 13th.
Words: Howard Gorman – @HowardGorman