One of the most unique and exciting offerings of the inaugural North Bend Film Fest was Mitzi Peirone’s debut feature. Braid is a hallucinogenic mind-fuck of the highest caliber. Beautiful, entrancing and dangerous, it gets its hooks in immediately and doesn’t stop for the next 90 minutes.
The film opens as Petula (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda (Sarah Hay) are working to sort and pack the $80k worth of drugs that they recently acquired for sale. When the cops start beating down their door, they escape through a window, take a train out of the city and head to the palatial home of their childhood friend, Daphne (Madeline Brewer). The pair decide to find the safe hidden deep within the walls of the house and rob Daphne of her inheritance in order to pay back their supplier.
What seems like a reasonably simple task is made much more complicated by the fact that Daphne, who has lived alone since the untimely death of her grandparents, is certifiably insane. The only way into the house is to agree to play a game that has gone on since the women were young. As Tilda and Petula step back into their roles, they embark on a dangerous and surreal game of make-believe at the hands of Daphne, who, like when they were little, rules the game with an iron fist.
Braid is a film that dives deep into the darkest corners of imagination. Tilda and Petula join Daphne in the game simply as a means of getting into and searching the house. Over time, the game begins to take hold, and it becomes less and less clear just what is imagined and what is reality.
Peirone utilizes bright, rich color palettes, a lavish location, and kinetic camera work to enhance the dreamlike nature of her story. Reality shifts and bleeds so slowly and subtly here that after awhile, we don’t quite know where the characters stand. It’s a beautiful, hypnotic nightmare that is completely unpredictable. She directs with a confidence that gives the film a real backbone – her story may not tie together perfectly, but it doesn’t really need to. When the realm of reality overlaps with the realm of fantasy, the best thing we can do is just hang on and enjoy the ride.
So much of the beauty in Braid is not in the narrative itself, but in how that narrative grabs onto the feel and execution of childhood games and imagination. Granted, it takes the imagination to some pretty dark places, but watching these characters slowly devolve to embody their childhood roles is fascinating. Childhood and make-believe, in their essence, have an element of insanity to them. Something that we grow out of and abandon as we grow more accustomed to the real world. Here, that insanity is harnessed and lived in with a ferocity we don’t often get to experience.
Braid is an exciting and noteworthy debut feature. While it never goes full Alice in Wonderland by leading us straight into impossibilities, it does dive far enough down a rabbit hole to leave us feeling disoriented in the best possible way.