Every horror fan knows that you have to follow the rules of the game if you want to survive, but the twisted “fun” in writer-director Mitzi Peirone’s stylized debut feature goes beyond the usual traps and twists. Instead, it’s a device to send the audience along with its leads into a fairy-tale dark trip.
When Braid begins, Petula (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda (Sarah Hay) are on the run from the cops after abandoning their stash. With their dealer anxious to get his money, they decide their only course of action is to visit their old friend Daphne (Madeline Brewer) at her palatial upstate home and steal the contents of her safe. However, in order to do that, they’re going to have the play the game they all “enjoyed” as children. Tilda adopts the role of Daphne’s daughter, while Petula is the visiting doctor/father figure. It’s immediately apparent that Daphne is totally unhinged and as the game become increasingly violent the dark truths behind its origins are slowly revealed.
Peirone divides the film into three chapters named after the rules (Everyone Must Play, No Outsiders Allowed, Nobody Leaves) and starts with a high level of energy that’s maintained throughout the running time. Together with cinematographer Todd Bahanzi and editor David Gutnik, she creates a jagged and disorienting tone that establishes a sense of delirious unreality from the get-go. The three leads commit absolutely and they all seem to be having tremendous fun as they each veer between wildly different states of control, powerlessness and tripping the hell out.
Indeed, it’s something of a sensory overload. The film is beautifully shot, with the colour palette flitting between candied dreamscapes and curdled rot, mirroring the twisted memory of childhood the three young women still find themselves living in (with many a sickly dessert being devoured). Sofia Coppola is clearly an influence, while the blend of opulence and violence recalles Xan Cassavetes’ Euro-horror tinged vampire movie Kiss Of The Damned. However, while Daphne’s world is mostly presented as a horror scenario to be endured for as little time, we begin to see that there is some strange creeping comfort to be gained from returning to the world of their youth. It’s an escape, but one that may well swallow them whole, and there’s a burgeoning sense of melancholy and sympathy for these damaged figures as the film goes on.
At times the story feels a little slight, even at its 88 minute run time, and you’d be forgiven for questioning early on whether it can maintain its high wire act (you’re probably going to be on board from early on, or not at all). The issue of whether or not there’s much going on under the immaculate surface proved to be divisive after our festival screening, but there’s something about Braid that stays with you.
Braid was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2018.