My vast appreciation of alien abduction and UFO lore has never compared to my father’s. Perhaps it’s because he’s a closeted science fiction and fantasy nerd, but I also think there’s worthy speculation to be had in the weird (and sometimes campy) world of alien encounters.
In homage to her grandmother, Alison Brie’s recent lead role in this year’s “Horse Girl” operates under the microscope of a woman (supposedly) experiencing alien abductions. A Netflix Original, and a bizarrely different role for Brie, “Horse Girl” works in conjunction with multi-layered metaphors, though most predominantly the mental health/illness of the main character, Sarah (Brie). Bizarre and unpredictable in story, the film, to some degree, has no plot on surface level view, but what it’s really doing is simultaneously eclipsing two parallels plots: one grounded in our reliable understanding of reality, and another where Sarah’s perspective of her distorted reality is seen.
In terms of plot, there’s only so much to discuss without spoiling the symbolism of “Horse Girl” for sake of creating one’s own interpretation of it. Sarah’s life is simple; tonally, it’s almost as if we begin with a slice-of-life drama, focusing on Sarah’s job as a crafts store employee, watching a supernatural TV show (that she’s obsessed with), and visiting a horse ranch where she once rode her favorite horse, Willow. As the movie progresses, Sarah undergoes lucid dreams, but actually believes she’s been abducted (and subsequently cloned).
Though “Horse Girl” doesn’t function on the dualism of what’s real and what isn’t, this is what causes the film to exceed beyond typical films regarding the collective schizophrenias (which are often poorly executed and researched). “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) is perhaps the closest comparison one might make, though “Horse Girl” seems to quarrel with much more abstract themes and concepts.
Without divulging the questions or potential answers I had by the time the end credits appeared, it’s crucial to note that I’m not perceiving my desire for discussing the film to imply “Horse Girl” is riddled with loose ends. Rather, “Horse Girl” is incredibly smart at what it’s doing, and the wonderful production, cinematography, soundtrack, and cast are testament to this. Brie captures psychosis in a startling, vivid performance, and I can only hope she continues to take challenging roles like this in the future. Were it not for her ability to manipulate the viewer’s emotions and insight into a mangled amalgam, I would not have been so vicariously tense throughout the film.
Perhaps what “Horse Girl” does so immensely well is question the definition of belief, how it wends into our skulls and never truly leaves once it has taken root. Films of this nature are paramount to making viewers question what they believe, but if anything, “Horse Girl” purports an alternative: that the story of its titular main character is symbolized not by her hallucinations, but by her illness, which is clearly portrayed. For us to disbelieve in Sarah’s dreams and stories is to disenfranchise her mental health. We should not be concerned with the unanswered questions of Sarah’s abduction, but rather believe that her mental health, and the mental health of others, is truly valid, even just by dint of our existence.