REVIEW: ‘Black Bear’ is a fascinating breach into the creative mind

To be honest, Aubrey Plaza really upstaged the bear in this movie.

In all seriousness, Plaza is the star of “Black Bear,” a film directed by Lawrence Michael Levine. Plaza portrays Allison, an actress-turned-director who’s staying at a lake house to escape the world and get some work done on a new project.

While she’s there, she meets the owners of the home, Blair (Sarah Gadon) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott). Her stay over the course of the picture goes through dramatic twists and turns that explore elements of a creative mind.

“Black Bear” is a mesmerizing, enthralling psychological drama that grabs you and doesn’t let go. It’s a fierce piece of filmmaking that explores the inner-workings of a person as they navigate the process of making something new.

Heavy emotions, possible past life experiences and pressures of the outside world are all at play for Allison, as the movie takes viewers on a multi-layered cinematic journey. For all of its successful work to bend the mind of the audience through twists, though, the movie really finds its high points in the numerous character actions that play out from start to finish.

Levine not only directed, but wrote the screenplay for “Black Bear,” and so much of it is just dripping with tension and unease. The uncomfortable atmosphere created in the movie is addictive and it makes an audience want to see how things will play out.

Courtesy Momentum Pictures.

The film is rich with moments between characters that range from digging into the dynamics of relationships to the filmmaking process itself. There’s even some dark humor inserted in certain parts. These sequences make for a truly captivating experience.

Making so much of this work is Plaza. The actress is absolutely on fire in this picture, giving the best performance of her career so far. Plaza is powerful, giving a vulnerable performance that captures the human condition very well.

There are a few scenes where Allison is really pushed to a breaking point mentally and Plaza does impressive work capturing those moments.

The cast is very well rounded, too. Gadon and Abbott play the two major supporting characters in the picture, and each is quite good. The number of characters is expanded as the film goes into the second half, too, and the rest of the cast is really on point, even those with just minor roles.

“Black Bear” looks quite good, as well. Robert Leitzell who handled the cinematography does great work. The movie basically has two halves, each one having a different tone and situation, and Leitzell does a fine job in giving each section of the film an identity, ensuring that the overall film has a consistent style while still offering a visual shift for the audience to coincide with the story.

The sound design is worthy of praise as well. Certain, subtle sounds are elevated at key points which just adds to the tension. Even something as simple as a crunch from a person biting into a snack in the movie is effective in adding to the atmosphere.

This movie really fires on all cylinders. The cast is superb, the script is effective and the way movie plays out is wonderfully thought-provoking. 5 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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