For what it's worth, Horse Girl works as an effective psychological black comedy, but it also serves as an infectious commentary on the need for proper outlets for those who are suffering.
Mental illness? Alien abduction? All of the above? Alison Brie successfully transports herself into the role of Sarah, a socially-awkward and emotionally-tormented arts and crafts store employee seeking meaning in her life in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl. Now streaming on Netflix, the film teeters between quirky comedy and psychological thriller as we're forced to look at life through Sarah's eyes before perceptions change and her demise approaches.
Brie's Sarah is a well-to-do young woman confident in her skin, though consistently haunted by unsettling dreams, sleepwalking episodes, and other mental terrors. She means well, but early into Horse Girl we see how her psyche keeps her from finding the successes she craves; success in her love life means finding a partner willing to theorize with her and take her seriously, success in her personal life weans filling the void of absent parents with friends willing to take her side.
The plot devices Baena uses, with a script by both him and Brie, are the film's strongest attributes. As the audience, we're never shown too much but instead treated with the simple and effective slices of Sarah's life. It's almost as if we're walking alongside Sarah as she dissects what is real and what is trauma. After a lackluster birthday evening, Sarah's roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan) and Nikki's boyfriend (Jake Picking) invite a friend of theirs over to party into the night. The new friend, Darren (John Reynolds), proves to be the antidote to some of Sarah's loneliness and the pair spend the evening drinking and oversharing. It isn't until the next morning, when Nikki enters the living room, that we find out with Sarah that something dark had occurred in the middle of the night. Nikki asks Sarah to fix the scratches on the wall, a sign that abnormal events that lead to destruction aren't completely rare.
Things begin to transition from unexpected events (like Sarah's car being stolen) to us, the audience, becoming the spectator once Sarah begins to cling to little details like seeing a person from her constant dream sequences in the flesh. A victim of an addictive personality, Sarah's psychotic episodes quickly leave her unraveling and vulnerable. Even her closest friend, Joan (Molly Shannon), can only help so much.
The care and craftiness in the film's script is a testament to both Baena's and Brie's talents as storytellers. The film is injected with uncomfortable sci-fi elements that keep you wondering if Sarah is actually on to something, or if her polarizing conspiracies are so overwhelming they are hard to shake. Whether or not her hypothesis about abductions and the afterlife is in fact true, there's no way to watch her unravel without feeling sympathy for the pain and suffering. Sarah wants so badly to either be rid of the thoughts tumbling through her brain or to be justified in the way in which she feels. She clings to any normalcy in her life, including revisiting the horse she still calls her own, despite the fact that it is no longer hers.
For those with mental illness, the truths their brains tell them overshadow logical thoughts and scenarios. The madness trickles in when the person is wrestling, knowing the truths are irrational and the logical thoughts are just beyond their grasp. For what it's worth, Horse Girl works as an effective psychological black comedy, but it also serves as an infectious commentary on the need for proper outlets for those who are suffering.