Ultrasound arrives on digital on June 20th.
A lot of sci-fi films are relatively cut-and-dry. Perhaps there’s an evil alien invasion or a giant monster consuming the inhabitants of a sleepy town, or maybe it’s about time travel or parallel universe jumping. These are familiar, comfortable tropes and stories to us all; there is a level of familiarity and expectation that we can tap into to process what we’re watching. However, science fiction is at its best when confronting you with the unknown, either prophesizing or reinterpreting – turning our ideas and thoughts upside down in the process. Ultrasound does both of these things at the same time.
Ultrasound opens with Glen (Vincent Kartheiser) as his car tires mysteriously blow out on a backroad as he travels from a friend’s wedding. However, fortunately for Glen, Arthur (Bob Stephenson) and Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez) live nearby. From that brief premise, you may think, “okay, I know where this is going”, but don’t be fooled; for the first ten to fifteen minutes, Director Rob Schroeder and Writer Conor Stechschulte may indulge your expectations, their screenplay playing out in a series of awkward interactions between a stranger and an odd couple. But, throughout, something feels off with a psychological itch of uncertainty. Whereas most films would keep irritating this itch, Ultrasound decides to split open your head entirely with a film-shattering twist before we’ve even exited the first act, and when Shannon (Breeda Wool) arrives on-screen, all bets are off.
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What follows is a Kaufman-Esque expedition into the complex doors of cinematic and viewer perception. Here, we are given a peek behind the curtain, which leads us to question everything Ultrasound shows us – it’s almost as though you’re watching a fake film, with pieces of reality hidden just for you to uncover. Ultrasound almost deconstructs itself as it develops, causing us to process and actively watch the narrative at play because for every truth displayed, there are more than a few lies that slip beneath. Ultrasound is a cinematic shapeshifter, its narrative structure in flux as it morphs and warps, attaching itself to you and seductively feeding on you like a parasite. Here you are drawn into its illusions and beguiling energy. In fact, even when it chooses to reveal its tricks, you feel just as confused and disorientated as the characters on-screen.
This is a movie where it is essential to walk into the theatre completely bare of knowledge, barring a quick look at the gorgeous poster art. For example, while viewing the film’s poster as a cornucopia of graphics, clues are hidden within its design. This layered design is found throughout the film, from its poster to its opening scenes and production design. Contextually, it feels inspired by the grand conspiracies of MK-Ultra, complete with secret facilities and hidden agendas at every level. To say any more would be to give away what’s a genuinely mind-boggling experience. It’s not an exaggeration to say this has some Christopher Nolan-level complexity to its approach, with a range of existential concepts at play.
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However, at times Ultrasound does suffer from its complexity. Much of this is due to its elaborate interweaving of stories and contextual intrigue. Here it can sometimes feel as though it doesn’t quite all come together, jumping from moment to moment like synapses firing off rather than streaming from one to the next like a train of consciousness.
That being said, this isn’t a film where one understands everything at play through a singular watch, and it’s possible that further viewing will only open more doors to viewer understanding. There was a moment in the second act when my brain was suddenly flooded with ideas and thoughts; here, what was truly happening in the film lit up my brain with a eureka moment of joy. Ultrasound has no intention of holding your hand, but if you keep your eyes open, your ears to the screen, and learn the film’s rules fast, you’ll find yourself loving this movie.
Ultrasound is a genuinely thought-provoking and mind-bending slice of sci-fi that deserves some love and attention. And while the effort and detail held in its misdirection will make some people’s heads explode, others will enjoy unpacking the gargantuan puzzle box it places in front of them.