January 11, 2019 Restraint (Movie Review)
In the almighty words of Henry David Thoreau, “If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.” Consider this for a moment, and then delve into the deepest channels of human psychology with Restraint, which arrived to DVD in the US back on November 6, 2018 thanks to Breaking Glass Pictures.
Barely out of school, Angela (Caitlyn Folley: Archie’s Final Project 2009, sxtape 2013) attempts to whitewash her troubles by falling in love with wealthy, older man Jeff (Dana Ashbrook: Return of the Living Dead Part II 1988, Twin Peaks series). The pair rush into marriage and Angela quickly moves into his massive, gaudy home and assumes the role of stepmother to his nine-year-old daughter Maddie (Isabella Celaya: Jenny & Tom short 2016, Adam Zwig’s “Raising People” music video).
But the past is just waiting to haunt her. To make matters worse, as Angela struggles to acclimate, Jeff displays his true colors: he is disrespectful of her wishes, insensitive, and, above all else, controlling. As it becomes clear to everyone but her husband that her mental state is unraveling, she develops symptoms that include blackouts and sleepwalking. Soon, a major life change will threaten to toss Angela over the edge of sanity without hope of return.
Winner of “Best Film” at the Rhode Island Film Festival and “Best Director” at the Downtown L.A. (DTLA) Film Festival, Restraint was written and directed by Adam Cushman (Dying For a Donut short 2003, The Maestro 2018). Clocking in at roughly 96-minutes, the film is billed as a Thriller and it is just this: a well-done Psychological Thriller with heavy nods to classic feminist literature.
In fact, in case you missed the blatant corollaries between Restraint and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, the book literally makes repeated appearances, almost becoming a character of its own. This is supplemented by the careful, visual use of yellow as an accent key throughout. These simple attentions to detail and the script’s close parallels make Restraint a must-see for literary lovers.
Of course, the bulk of any film’s success rests heavily on its cast. Restraint does a lot with very little, and its three main actors are all superb. Ashbrook’s Jeff is subtle in his loathe-inducing actions: he is disrespectful of his wife’s privacy and body, and completely lacking in empathy; a man who considers himself too busy to allot time for proper communication with his family. His idea of sex is thrusting away while Angela looks bored, or worse, pained. Until a precipice is reached, he is controlling but not wholly abusive; his greatest sin is willful neglect of his young wife. This subtlety is important to the role, and Ashbrook toes the line beautifully. He is convincing as a well-to-do businessman with casual disregard for his wife and daughter. Ashbrook’s careful depiction of the role is likely to polarize viewers, as he is neither a clear-cut villain or a helpless victim.
Folley’s Angela is an extreme rendering of a wife buried beneath mental illness and the psychological labor of her relationship. Okay, so she’s not obsessed with wallpaper (alright, maybe just a little), but she’s definitely breaking under the strain of a previous, life-long mental health issue coupled with major life changes. While it would be hard to fully blame her husband for her devolving condition, certainly his loving attention might have turned this story on its head. Instead, Angela breaks and she breaks hard. Folley’s depiction of this young woman’s struggle is poetic, never over-the-top and hokey, never disrespectful or campy. It is a very important line to avoid crossing here, as the film might be entirely changed by one misstep. As it stands, Folley’s Angela is also a polarizing character thanks to her marvelous rendering of the role.
In her performance, young Celaya depicts poor little Maddie, a tween trapped in the middle. Her own mother up and left her (likely because of her darling father), and now her stepmother is going off the rails on a crazy train. Celaya might be young, but she effectively communicates the confusion and the emotional pain that is placed on a child in a home suffering from mental illness. She is the true sympathetic character herein, the sole individual involved in this downward spiral who is truly helpless.
One could easily say that Restraint is a modern retelling of The Yellow Wallpaper, though there are clear diversions from the original to keep modern audiences entertained and to give the story its own unique spin. The ending too is a different animal, one that is haunting in its extremity. Still, Restraint authors a story that is beautifully filmed and depicted with a lovely attention to detail, but a story that will leave viewers emotionally raw. In this manner, the film is a bridge between classic concepts in literature and modern day horrors, one that proves that some themes are truly timeless. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock give Restraint 4 of 5 stars.