Black Bear (4 stars)

Black Bear

GFF 2021: A career-best Aubrey Plaza is at the heart of Lawrence Michael Levine's discomforting drama

Mind games are the focus of an original and unsettling indie drama from American writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine that boasts a shape-shifting performance from Aubrey Plaza at its core. Best known for her work in comedy, stripping Plaza's humorous shtick away and letting this actress toy with us, results in an enjoyably slippery film.

Plaza plays Allison, a film director who arrives at a woodland retreat at the outset. It's the new venture of vaguely successful musician Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and ex-dancer Blair (Sarah Gadon), a couple who have escaped Brooklyn for a different way of life and are expecting their first child. The vast lakeside property is a former holiday home that has been in Gabe's family for decades. Animosity between the couple is evident from the start, with their endless bickering making for a fractious and uncomfortable atmosphere. While Allison seems to be actively trying to fan the flames of disagreement, by siding with Gabe in preposterous arguments and trying to draw his eye.

This may be career-best work from Plaza, who has shown dramatic chops in amongst her comedy roles, but this particular part demands a wide spectrum of emotion from her and a slight air of unknowableness, and she rises to the occasion. She's well-supported by a hubristic, easily-riled Abbott and an insecure, needling Gadon.

The film has some surprises up its sleeve, which we won't reveal here. Suffice to say, Levine plumbs the murky depths of human behaviour, and shows self-awareness as he draws a parallel between the worst aspects of a romantic relationship and how filmmakers manipulate their performers. An experienced thespian himself, he seems fascinated by the very process of acting, and how this is employed in our daily lives. The result is a cunning, striking and occasionally alarming film with plenty of witty touches, that'll keep you on the edge of your seat wondering where it might take you next.

Available to watch via Glasgow Film At Home for 72 hours from 8:30pm on Sat 27 Feb, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2021. In participating cinemas and on demand from Fri 23 Apr.

Black Bear

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 44min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Lawrence Michael Levine
  • Written by: Lawrence Michael Levine
  • Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, Paola Lázaro, Grantham Coleman
  • UK release: 23 April 2021

A filmmaker experiencing a creative block seeks silence and inspiration in a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense ways.