June 26, 2022 Ultrasound (Movie Review)
Memory is fragile and wavering at its best. All of us have experienced tricks played on our memory in some way: perhaps visiting a place from childhood and seeing that it is different than you remember, or classic déjà vu, when we are not sure if we have experienced something before or not. The fragility of memory is at the heart of Ultrasound, the feature-length debut from Director Rob Schroeder. Released on DVD and On Demand June 7, 2022 through Magnolia Home Entertainment, it follows multiple main characters through a mind-bending altered reality narrative. Dubbed a Sci-Fi Thriller, it more of a Psychological Thriller with some alarming real-world implications.
The story starts with a very familiar trope; lone driver, Glen (Vincent Kartheiser: In Time 2011, Mad Men series), on a dark and rainy road at night has an accident, crashes, and is helped by two strangers, a married couple named Art (Bob Stephenson: Lady Bird 2017, The Chair series) and Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez: Forgotten Phoenix 2017, Chain of Death 2019). From the start, there is something off about the entire situation – the convenience of their help, and especially the overly-friendly nature of Art, who overshares in a major way. Art convinces Glen to sleep with his wife, which completes a setup that is too familiar, yet we know from the atmosphere that there is more than simple killing is afoot.
The next major character we follow is Katie (Rainey Qualley: Perfect 2018, Love in the Time of Corona series), an attractive young woman who is having an affair with Alex Harris (Chris Gartin: Perception series, Mother! 2017), a senator facing a challenging reelection season. Clearly, if word of the affair got out to the press, his campaign is ruined. Katie is also pregnant, she thinks, and is seemingly locked in an apartment, where she is frustrated by Alex’s lack of attention. He only has so much time for her while campaigning.
Do all of those things sound strange? They do by design, because it turns out that all of them but Art and Alex are being manipulated through sound frequency and suggestion. In the lab that serves as the base of operations, we meet the last major character, Shannon (Breeda Wool: UnREAL series, Mr. Mercedes series) one of a team of scientists working on the effects of the frequencies and using Glen, Cyndi, and Katie as lab rats.
The breadth of power these frequencies have is truly frightening. They can convince people that they are paralyzed, plant false memories that the subject thoroughly believe are real, and even make women believe they are pregnant when they are not. There are multiple levels to this manipulation as well, one false memory leads to another, sometimes for reasons the audience isn’t sure of. And that is where the story starts to fall apart. There are simply too many threads for the audience to care about.
Multiple character arcs are difficult to juggle even in a story that doesn’t manipulate reality, but here it hurts the story because the overall narrative comes in fits and jerks, and is unclear and opaque. The main part of the story feels like it’s supposed to be the political scandal, but it’s difficult to care about it much when we can barely keep up with what’s real and grounded. There is also another, more subtle plotline between Art and the scientists at the lab that adds to the confusion.
All this in mind, the performances are very good. Bob Stephenson as Art stands out the most as his character has the most complex role, keeping the audience unsure if he’s a player in the game or something much more cunning. Vincent Kartheiser and Chelsea Lopez as Glen and Cyndi also have challenging parts. There are a lot of sudden changes in this story and serious emotional depth for both characters, and both actors do a wonderful job throughout and are what keep the audience interested. The plot with Katie and Alex deserved more attention and leave something to be desired by the end.
Overall, Ultrasound is a mixed bag. Reality bending stories are very tricky, and require trust between the audience and filmmakers that it will all come together, and when it comes up a bit short it’s like a burnt dinner. There are many good elements to this story, but is on the bland side and a bit of a slog to get through despite that. Ultrasound is worth your time if you are a fan of lo-fi and Psychological Thrillers, but a story with this many threads needed a defter hand to weave them together seamlessly. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Ultrasound 2.5 out of 5 stars.