So, this is a very odd film and one that I found quite frustrating. Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss play a married couple looking to rekindle the flame. They’re sent, by their off-beat marriage counselor, played, in all too brief cameo, by Ted Danson, to a retreat in the woods. It consists of a cottage and a guest house and, if I was going to recommend this film I’d stop talking now. Since I’m ultimately not, I’m going to reveal what comes next; the guest house is seemingly inhabited by the better selves of Ethan and Sophie. So, when Moss’ Sophie goes into the guest house late one night, she encounters Ethan there, but he’s more charming, more interested in opening up about his feelings and an all-around sweeter guy. She’s unaware that the real Ethan is snoozing away in the main cabin. Get the premise?
So, this has a lot of promise. It seems to initially be moving toward being a sort of fable/parable about how much difference it could make in our lives if we’d just, you know, give some effort into being better people. But that isn’t at all where the film goes. The film, frankly, gets way too interested in the mystery plot of what exactly is happening and the film gets so lost in the weeds that the real human emotions that the film had at the beginning, get covered up in increasingly cartoonish antics. I think the film would have worked better by being much more ambiguous, like a Twilight Zone episode. As it is, the film simultaneously tells us too much about the retreat and too little; we’re given a lot of clues/answers as to why these weird things are happening, but by the end of the film, they just made me more confused. Every time the film answered a question about the logistics or the premise, it just opened up about ten more questions and pointed out how little sense the film actually made. Plus, I didn’t really CARE how or why it was happening.
So, the film shoots itself in the foot. I was reminded of an old-school Twilight Zone vibe with the premise. But Serling knew how and when to be ambiguous and to always put the human emotions and the evocative symbolism of the story front and center and let the strangeness just be part of the backdrop. This film shoves the human story and the genuinely compelling symbolism to the side in order to just . . . be confusing. And can I just say that the final ten minutes contains both the silliest visual I’ve seen all year and the most unmotivated character choice I’ve seen all year.
Well, I’ve gone on way too long. About all I can say as a positive is that I thought Moss was really good. Duplass was solid, if less interesting. Anyway, intriguinging premise, solid performers, a lot of potential and all of it wasted in a dead-end, meandering, confounding, ultimately empty exercise. I’m going to strongly recommended against you wasting your time on this below average movie. 1 ½ stars.
tl;dr – a strong performance by Moss can’t save the film when it wastes a fascinating and evocative premise by focusing on confounding the audience instead of emotionally reaching them.