Despite its chuckle-inducing title, Horse Girl, released on Netflix on Friday, is not just a movie about quirky “horse girls.” The label, which has been steadily rising in popularity through memes, perfectly captures the je ne sais quoi of that one girl in middle school who really, really, liked horses.
Sarah (Alison Brie), the protagonist of the film, is definitely a horse girl, with her penchant for arts and crafts and her obsession with her horse Willow, who no longer belongs to her. The movie, however, does not take the “blossoming” narrative that one might expect, instead opting for a much darker and complex take on this horse girl.
Sarah initially strikes the audience as a relatively nondescript character, with her only striking personality trait being her painful social awkwardness. As a salesperson at a craft store, she can be a little overzealous with customers, but otherwise helpful and sweet—the type of girl you would easily forget. She lies about having friends from Zumba class to celebrate her birthday with, but she is clearly out of place in that studio of energetic, extroverted women, and instead tries to spend her birthday night watching Purgatory, her favorite sci-fi drama show.
Her birthday plans get interrupted by her much cooler roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan), who invites her boyfriend’s roommate Darren (John Reynolds) over for an impromptu party. Sarah and Darren, after an abundance of awkward conversation about how Darren has the same name as a character from Purgatory, manage to click. This is where you think Sarah’s happy ending should begin—they start dating, they get into a fight, Sarah finds herself, romantic kiss in the rain, the end.
Nope. This is when things get weird.
Sarah experiences lapses in memory and lucid dreams. She begins to obsess over her ancestry and her resemblance to her grandmother, who believed she was from the future and who everyone dismissed as crazy. Sarah begins to believe in alien abduction.
The movie spirals into a cesspool of bizarre, and the audience begins to experience the world with the same chaos that Sarah does. She wakes up in places she does not remember going to, loses track of conversations with people, and finds mysterious bruises all over her body.
Some people in the real world affirm the things she sees. Others call her crazy.
The audience is unsure of who to believe: Sarah, from whose perspective the movie is shot, or the standard of sanity that we and society have accepted? The movie never answers these questions, and it ends up leaving the audience simply confused.
What Horse Girl lacks in terms of explanations and coherence it makes up for in stellar acting, music, and cinematography. Rewind back to the beginning, and you will soon see that the uncanny was there from the very first frame—if you notice the stiflingly cool colors and the oppressive score.
In fact, the movie has an unnerving atmosphere from beginning to end. Something is just always a bit wrong in every scene, a hint of the darkness hiding behind the pastel tones and the mediocrity. In a similar way, kindhearted Sarah tries convincing Darren to help her dig up her mother’s dead body on their first real date.
The scene where Sarah goes to visit her friend Heather (Meredith Hagner), who suffered a riding accident as a kid, feels jarringly out of place, even in a movie where nothing is supposed to feel natural. The scene is just too blasé. Heather gets almost no mention again, save for a brief appearance in one of Sarah’s wild lucid dreams, and this visit scene interrupts the intense aura of suspense built up earlier. Though it’s hard to critique strange scenes in such a surreal film, when a scene feels so utterly pointless that it fails to even add to the confusion, it probably should have been left out.
There is something intrinsically intriguing about Horse Girl with its mastery over the uncanny. It can be vastly uncomfortable at times, but at the same time surprisingly beautiful. Horse Girl leaves viewers confused—about both the plot and their feelings toward the movie itself—and raises the question of whether the writers themselves knew what the ending meant.
Featured Image by Netflix