Review of “Test Pattern (2019)”

When looking for a new film to watch this week, I saw this listed in the SNF Parkway’s virtual theater and its synopsis sounded as though it would be pertinent to 2021. Having never heard of this film or its director beforehand, I wondered what kind of experience I would be in for, and I was not let down in the slightest. What follows is a deeply personal story of sexual assault and the nature of fractures that occur in life after- not any form of easy viewing.

I will do my best to not spoil large sections of the plot, but I make no guarantees, as there is truly some stunning attention to detail at points throughout this film. The movie begins in a moment that feels uncomfortable, but you’re unable to figure out exactly why just yet- it’s a young black woman sitting on a bed holding a glass of water, but she seems vacant. Why this uncomfortable feeling persists in the opening minutes becomes clear later on, but it’s more than effective enough at making you feel as though something is off. Proper conveyance of tone is masterful throughout this film, and each time period is made distinctly clear by the expert use of light and color. When Renesha (played by Brittany Hall) first meets Evan (played by Will Brill), there are lots of bright and vivid colors in the club, and their meetings after are filled with more warm colors as their relationship blossoms. When Renesha goes to meet Amber (played by Gail Bean) at a local club, the colors become more intense but also threatening, many more solid reds and distorted yellows as the drugs that Mike (played by Drew Fuller) and Chris (played by Ben Levin) have given her take effect. Color plays a crucial role late in the film when a scene in the present is immediately contrasted by a scene from the not-too-distant past, that serves as a brutal punch to the gut of the viewer marking the end of a loving and nurturing feeling that had been there before the incident.

But there is also plenty of visual detail just outside of color- each actor present gracefully uses body language and interactions in the environment to display their individual personalities of their characters. Mike is a character who violates personal boundaries (and is white), not just verbally pressuring Renesha to drink more and take drugs, but also physically stopping her at points and expressing immediate displeasure that she would say “no” to him at the club. His posture also indicates a physical intimidation as he frequently stands above her and gestures rather forcefully that she accept his proposition or face some kind of consequence. At times, he is visibly cut off from the shoulders up, making his aura much more menacing as his focus becomes solely on her body. When Evan is attempting to comfort Renesha, she also slaps his hands away and they become much more visibly uncomfortable around each other, as he respects her wishes to not be touched after the assault but clearly wants to physically comfort her as well, though Renesha appears much more conflicted. Towards the end of the plot, we begin to see the flat out removal of Evan from Renesha’s life as she verbally refused to accept his help any longer after he imposes the use of police in their case, as she knows too well what the end result will be.

In fact, there is quite a heavy criticism of Texas politics that is not subtle but still delivered in a manner that does not feel forced. Evan’s upbringing as a white man (shown by his exclusively white friend base and easy reliance on police) makes Renesha even more uncomfortable than she was before, and when both the healthcare system fail her and traumatize her further, she only finds solace in one nurse and her best friend, Amber. All of this character development is delivered organically and she is truly a sympathetic character, showing how the system continuously fails to deliver any manner of closure to her in all aspects of her assault. While not an overtly political film, the criticism of modern day politics, of the Trump era of fascist policies, and the intentional inflicted trauma on victims of sexual assault that has Texas politics force hospitals to jump through insane bureaucratic red tape to provide a single rape kit are all elements present. All of this is even before we touch on the racial disparities between multiple characters, with mostly white men being beneficiaries of violent behavior or acting out while black women continue to be punished by that same system. By film’s end, even Evan appears to be more conscious of this fact, but it also may be too little too late for him as the minutes close out.

While I greatly appreciate how much subtlety is present even in the more obvious facets of the film’s storytelling, there were a number of technical issues and delivery that I felt were distracting. A few of the handheld shots were like because of shooting location, but it was weirdly disproportionate nonetheless and didn’t match the tone of the rest of the film. Some of the sound design was also questionable at points, with some sound effects being greatly exaggerated at times such as Renesha slapping Evan’s hand and it sounding as though it was a bullwhip. Some of the ADR didn’t quite line up correctly, either, but many of these issues are not overwhelming despite their presence. There is much more to appreciate about this film than there is to detract from it, and it’s an easy recommendation from me. I give this film an 8 out of 10.

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