Thursday 23 November 2017

Ingrid Goes West

Stalk On The Wild Side

Ingrid Goes West
2017 USA Directed by Matt Spicer
UK cinema release print.

Well this is a pretty amazing movie.

Ingrid Goes West is a film which I went to see purely because I’d seen Aubrey Plaza in one other movie and I was quite taken with her performance. That previous movie was Ned Rifle (reviewed here), the last part of Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool trilogy where she played a character who had only been alluded to in the previous parts of that series. I found her quite quirky and appealing as an on screen personality and so when I saw the trailer for this, although I had my reservations, I thought I’d give it a go.

As it turned out, that was a really good idea.

Here, Plaza plays the titular Ingrid who is, for want of a better term, a social media junkie who spends her waking hours trying to catch the eye of her latest Instagram obsession. The movie is toned, for the most part, as a comedy but it has a really dark heart and, as lazy as it is to say it, that dark heart is ultimately Ingrid herself. That being said, she’s not a villainous character and doubles as both protagonist and antagonist in that her actions, when viewed by the audience, are almost understandable at times and, although she is pretty much a full fledged stalker, insinuating her way into the private lives of others, she is also the character who the writers and director presumably want you to identify with.

The film poses no easy way into that mindset, however, as it starts off with the end game shenanigans of her latest obsession. A woman who she is so obsessed with and feeling excluded by that she crashes her wedding and maces her in the face for not inviting her there. The credits montage, then, is of Ingrid in her local mental hospital as we see her partaking of all the usual movie clichéd pastimes pictured at said establishments such as pill taking (with the sticking out of the tongue as proof of a swallow), group therapy and such like while her voice narrates her ‘apology’ emails to her victim, laced with the feint tinge of hope that she will get a forgiving (and possibly inviting) response.

What the start of that sequence also does, of course, is establish to the audience that Ingrid is crazy enough to flip into hostile and aggressive behaviour towards her ‘instagram crushes’ when things don’t go the way she wants... which helps to populate the character with an edge of unease as the story progresses because... well... the audience knows just what she’s capable of.

As the opening sequence finishes, Ingrid’s mother dies and leaves her a large sum of money. We don’t find out until later, in an almost throwaway line, that Ingrid’s mum was her best friend and the void in her life left by her departure may be one of the factors to have influenced the bizarre way in which she engages with the rest of the world. As the movie wears on, she gets more sympathetic, even though, as the story starts properly, she finds a new Instagram person she starts to obsessively follow, to the point where she takes her entire inheritance out from the bank, loads it up in her backpack and moves to California to stalk and penetrate her next ‘victims’ life.

That next victim is Taylor Sloane, played by Elisabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Ingrid very quickly kidnaps her dog and waits for the appearance of a reward flyer, by way of an introduction into the lives of Taylor and her husband Ezra (played here by Wyatt Russell). The film then plays out as Ingrid becomes one of the family’s closest friends as she uses and manipulates everything around her to try to stay popular with her new ‘Insta pal’... including hooking up into a relationship with her young, Batman obsessed landlord Dan Pinto (played by O'Shea Jackson Jr.) in order to be able to turn up with her ‘imaginary boyfriend’. Then, when Taylor’s hero, her dominant and thoroughly nasty brother turns up, things start to go a bit pear shaped for Ingrid in some pretty nasty and uncomfortable ways.

Well,  that’s the basic set up and, I have to say, the actors and actresses in this movie really turn in some amazing performances... especially Plaza and Olsen. A lot of the humour in here is based on that very American style of ‘the comedy of embarrassment’, it seemed to me and, while I’m not a big fan of that kind of ‘little fish trying to fit in’ style of humour, it was just balanced and subtle enough in the performances here that it never once alienated me and I had a really good time with it. Also, as I said before, it’s not just a comedy and as the movie progresses, it kind of creeps up on you that it’s also an observation of the way loneliness can effect people and the lengths to which they will go to pursue a cure for that particular state of being.

There’s also some nice things happening with the way the film has been put together, too. The constant, almost staccato beat of Ingrid’s voice as she reads the Instagram captions out loud on the soundtrack in her head, including the vocalisation of the emojis (princess emoji, prayer emoji etc) is also echoed within the sharp cuts of certain montage sections exploring the famous social media site but it also has some nice visual echoes when the film is not specifically doing that too.

For starters, there are a fair few more static shots than you might expect in a film about the people of this particular age group. And I loved the way that, for some of the establishing shots of new locations, instead of smoothly panning the camera around to create the setting, the director will instead drop three differently angled static shots making up a quick ‘establishing edit’ rather than do the obvious... which is how you would perceive somewhere shown as static photos on a social media site, I guess (don’t get me started on gifs please).

There’s even a set of windows which he occasionally comes back to which take up the whole frame as a three across by two high grid... and of course when a character is standing outside those windows, they tend to be perfectly framed within one of the rectangles, just like you might be trying to do with an instagram picture or grid layout, I guess (I’m not actually on the site, I think).

Another great moment is in the score provided by Jonathan Sadoff and Nick Thorburn (sadly, there’s no proper CD release of this as yet... just a wretched download). Ingrid is dressed up in a Catwoman mask and seducing her new boyfriend with her best Catwoman shenanigans and this includes a moment where she licks his face in the exact same way that Michelle Pfiefer did something similar in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns... and why it works so well here is because the score is an obvious parody of Danny Elfman’s Catwoman orchestrations. It’s just a perfect moment of pastiche in a movie which is full of good ideas and, despite its bleak trajectory, I found myself thoroughly entertained by it.

It also ends in a way which is not entirely unexpected in terms of the aims and objectives of the title character but which also has a tragic poignancy. The way in which it’s pitched here works so wonderfully that, by the end of the sequence following what I was at first worried was the end sequence, I was genuinely torn between whether or not I should be feeling happy or sad for Ingrid. Is this redemption or... ? Oh no, this isn’t quite that at all it’s something else and it may seem deliberately ambivalent in its execution but I just thought the last shot was just the perfect ending for the movie.

Indeed, I didn’t realise how powerful that ending was until I started sobbing as I walked home from the cinema after it had finished. I have to confess, I felt really suicidal on the journey back and the next day and, although I can’t completely blame the movie for that right now (I have some stupid rubbish going on in real life at the moment) I felt compelled by the film to contemplate the darker parts of my biological make up for a day or two. Which is great, right? The film haunted me and made me think about things for a bit so... if that’s not a recommendation for a good time at the cinema then I don’t know what is. It wouldn’t surprise me if, when I come to tot up my top ten movies for 2017 at the end of the year, this one is in the mix somewhere on that list. Ingrid Goes West is a truly amazing little movie and I’m so glad I was lucky enough to see it.  

#IAmIngrid. 👰

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