Ultrasound (2021)

You know there is something wrong right from the beginning.

A raging storm, a row of spikes set out on the road, a tire blows out, and a young man is forced to go to a neighboring house for help.

Only the suspiciously helpful man he meets has a very strange request for him.

As the story goes on, other, seemingly unrelated events occur, and we get glimpses of something larger and far stranger that carries us further and further from that mysterious “accident”…

We really need more films like this.

I’ve been trying to think of another science fiction film which offered us such a dense multi-layered mystery, but I’m having a hard time.  I suppose one could point at some of Christopher Nolan’s films, although Shane Carruth’s mysterious Upstream Color is perhaps closer.

However, Shane is far more interested in mood, stunning imagery and a strange sort of romance than in his carefully constructed mystery.  Another important difference between the two films is that it is hard to say how much of Ultrasound actually happens and how much is an illusion.  Ultrasound plays one game after another with its audience and piles mystery on top of mystery.

And yet there is a very solid story underneath all the layers of illusion and deception, or perhaps one might say several stories which all tie into one much larger one.

It is difficult to say much about Ultrasound without giving away the central secrets driving the plot — and, in fact, most reviewers have given away far too much.  We soon learn that there seem to be different versions of reality, but even that may be hinting at too much.

It’s an absolutely amazing film although some viewers may find that it takes a little while to get into the story, thanks to the sudden shifts which take place in the early stages of the film.  It is, after all, a large and complex mystery, and first-time director, Rob Schroeder, handles all the pieces effortlessly and with a bit of style.  There’s a lot of mood and atmosphere and some memorable setups and camerawork.

I have to wonder if some of the more potent imagery — like the opening moments with a car going past a row of nails sticking up out of a strip of wood in the foreground, followed an instant later by the sound of a blowout — were taken directly from the film’s source, the graphic novel Generous Bosom by Conor Stechschulte: after all, the unique combination of story and art found in cartoons and comics demands single images which convey a lot of information simply and directly.  You can’t fully copy the effect on film, but these sorts of images, if used well, can add a lot of impact to a movie.

And I have to give Conor a lot of credit for creating his stunningly complex story, which seems an unrelated collection of inexplicable pieces at first and yet collapses into a very frightening story by the end.  He is the only credited writer on the film, although he is only credited for the graphic novel and I am not certain whether he wrote the script or not.

But either way, he created an exceptional story.

The one major regret in all this is that it is now almost impossible to find movies like this outside of the Indie world.  Yes, we have Christopher Nolan and a few other major talents out there whose films are still reaching the mainstream market, but, sadly, this is not an age which rewards solid scripting, clever visual storytelling, or complex stories, or any film which requires its audience to pay attention.

Nor — if I’m going to be entirely honest — am I certain that the mainstream audience is capable of appreciating such films anymore.  Not that this is necessarily their fault:

After all, if you keep feeding them pablum year in and year out, then they may not be able to handle solid food anymore.

But if you are looking for a bit of solid food from your movies, movies which revolve around tight scripts, strongly drawn characters — and yet still provide us with thrills, mystery and suspense, then you will definitely want to check out Ultrasound.

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Check out our new Feature (Updated February 16, 2022):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!



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