Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes
Stars: Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool, Bob Stephenson
Writer: Conor Stechschulte
Director: Rob Schroeder
In Theaters and Streaming
Scene: A rainy night, a remote house. There’s a knock at the door. The resident opens it and finds a soaking wet man.
“My car broke down,” he says. “I need to use the phone.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one — or better yet, don’t. Because despite a setup that’s launched a thousand scary movies, Ultrasound almost immediately veers off from one unexpected detour to another, exploring dimly lit back roads of unreliable memory and shifting perspectives of reality.
The stranded motorist in question is Glen (Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser), who’s on his way home from a friend’s wedding when his car mysteriously pops a flat tire. He finds refuge at the home of Art (Bob Stephenson) and his much-younger wife Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez)—whose apparently on-the-rocks relationship leads to a steamy encounter between Glen and Cyndi.
Just as that weird little narrative gets going, however, we switch locales to meet Katie (Rainey Qualley), a stunning woman who’s in a secret relationship with a U.S. senator. Oddly, sometimes she’s got the svelte body of a supermodel — and occasionally she appears to be about eight months pregnant. Even stranger (if that’s possible), her lover sometimes appears not as the handsome senator, but as fat, unshaven Art — the guy who took Glen into his home.
Then there’s Shannon (Breeda Wool, from last year’s superb Mass), a polished professional grief and trauma counselor who seems to be working on a top-secret project in which she sits down with subjects and reads scripts reenacting jarring episodes from their lives. Confusingly, her chief subjects appear to be Cyndi, who also may or may not also be pregnant (as a result of her one-night stand with Glen), and Glen, who has apparently lost the use of his legs in some kind of accident.
All the time, the characters push through the film’s narrative, only occasionally pausing to reflect on an apparent incongruity or conflicting memory.
“It will all make sense as we go along,” Shannon reassures Glen. “I promise. Trust me.”
Well, if there’s one thing we’ve learned in 100-plus years of movies, it’s never to trust anyone who says, “Trust me.” Still, as the disparate threads of Ultrasound slowly converge, it becomes clear that if anyone’s going to come clean about all this, that anyone is Shannon, who is showing growing mistrust of her white-coated colleague, a smooth-talking neuroscientist (Marriage Story’s Tunde Adebimpe) who just might be playing games with the memories of everyone we’ve met.
Based on an acclaimed graphic novel by Conor Stechschulte, who also wrote the screenplay, Ultrasound is an experiment in storytelling with not just one unreliable narrator, but a whole room full of them. He even pulls us into his memory trap: Did we really see a fully loaded hotel room service tray lying incongruously by the side of the road as Glen trudged through the rain?
Director Rob Schroeder sometimes gets lost in his own maze, leaving us with the unsatisfactory sense that he and Stechschulte have built a house with nothing but false doors. Still, there’s always the thrill of the chase; in this case a chase for failing, false, and downright fraudulent memories. Ironically, even as it detonates any hope of relying on the frailty of human recollection, Ultrasound burrows into the subconscious, an earworm of haunting moments and eerie revelations.
Featured image: Scene from Ultrasound (Magnet Releasing)
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