Looking back at 2022, it will be hard to ignore how many women were gaslit on the big screen. The phenomenon first gained its name from the 1944 noir starring Ingrid Bergman. That film was a cultural sensation, and the phrase has only grown in its colloquial use in the past decade. This rhetoric becomes especially harmful when used against a person with mental illness. A 2022 Toronto Film Festival release, Fixation places this idea at the center of its narrative. In the process, director Mercedes Bryce Morgan tells a unique story through this familiar lens.
For Dora (Maddie Hasson), a recent trauma has left her without much of her short-term memory. Pushed into therapy with Dr. Melanie (Genesis Rodriguez), Dora begins to suspect more is going on outside her room. As she attempts to understand her situation, visions of her deceased brother (Atticus Mitchell) begin to confront her at every turn. Will Dora discover an unwanted truth? Or is there more to her circumstances than she realizes?
Add another name to the list in a year full of excellent horror performances by women. Hasson not only appears in nearly every scene, but she brings genuine anxiety and emotion to every sequence. The role is not only demanding on the mind, but physically she’s constantly fighting for her life. Hasson approaches every scene with the energy of a woman scorned by the world. Her confusion, anger, and joy shine through to sell Fixation’s more ambitious swings. Hasson deserves credit as the breakout star, especially given the narrative weight she must carry.
While the fast cuts and ever-changing production design simulate the frustrations those with mental illness face, it becomes a burden on the audience over time. Bryce Morgan uses several scenes to slow the action and straighten the plot. The use of chapters helps, but some confusion still looms over the portions of the film. While a monologue toward the end of the movie helps bring home the narrative, the disorientation felt by the audience may harm their overall feelings toward Fixation.
Excellent production design anchors each location throughout Fixation within a real-world setting. This drastically adds to the tension, partly due to the confusing ways we hop between Dora’s memories. The distinct focus on overcrowded rooms with sharp objects and concrete prisons encourages the viewer to continually scan the spaces looking for clues. Shifting lighting also opens the doors for creative perspectives on memories. With sequences reminiscent of Gondry and Nolan, Bryce Morgan asks a lot of the audience. Yet those who buy in find excellence.
While Fixation plays with gaslighting as a concept, the ways it subverts and changes the experience make the movie stand out from similar stories. Bryce Morgan opens the door as a visually inventive filmmaker and finishes Fixation as one able to land an emotional narrative. With a star turn from Hasson, expect Fixation to become a favorite of the horror crowd.
Alan’s Rating: 7/10
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