Monday, September 15, 2014


Ultrasonic (2012)
Dir. Rohit Colin Rao
Written by Rohit Colin Rao, Mike Maguire
Starring Silas Gordon Brigham, Sam Repshas, Cate Buscher

An aspiring musician (Silas Gordon Brigham) with a pregnant wife and a lot of stress over his future suddenly discovers one day that he has something additional to worry about: There’s a mysterious high-frequency tone, fluctuating in intensity, which only he seems to be able to hear. At first he worries there’s something wrong with him, he sees a doctor, tries to figure out what’s wrong with his ears. But gradually, with some needling from his conspiracy theory-prone brother-in-law (Sam Repshas) he begins to suspect that there’s something more sinister going on, which only his uniquely fine-tuned hearing can detect.

This ambitious and thoughtful micro-budget take on a psychological thriller is perhaps a bit too uneventful and amateurish to be a dish for all tastes, but those willing to look beyond its rough edges will find plenty to like. The deliberate pace, ambiguous mystery and stark black-and-white photography add up to a confident, unusual vision and the soundtrack (though sometimes a little too assertive for such a quiet film) suits the hypnotic, paranoid mood very nicely. As a DC native, it's also nice to see a film set in the nation's capital which eschews the usual stock footage of the Capitol dome and Washington monument. We don't see much of the city beyond the metro (knowing DC's restrictive filming laws, even the few local shots we do see much have been a huge hassle to get) but the location work in grim, moldy-brick lower-class DC neighborhoods adds a strong sense of authenticity, and a good reminder to the rest of the world that there’s a whole diverse city here, not just a strip of senators and museums. Setting the story in the real world, with a cast of real people (mostly nonactors, I imagine) makes the whole thing more relatable than it would be with a bunch of 20something TV actors in some fake Hollywood set. Maybe not more believable, but at least a different vibe. I like it.

I'd know that wrought-iron fence anywhere!

Even at a slim 90 minutes, the film feels a little padded, and not every performance plays entirely convincingly (though leads Brigham and Repshas do nice work). As is often the case with these little independent films, there’s some awkwardness and perhaps a tendency to overexplain things somewhat, which doesn’t always feel very convincing (even though the conclusion is still appropriately ambiguous). But it’s a laudable effort, especially for a microbudget indie. If it lacks a certain amount of refinement, it makes up for it by getting right the most important thing in this sort of low-key thriller: tone. I’m not sure if the movie has as much to say about government overreach as it might think it does, but who cares when it has that elusive ability to lull you into that hypnotic state of low-key paranoia. If you're in the mood for an atmospheric, slow-burn mystery with a unique concept and ambitious execution, this one will deliver.

Surprising amount of crossover between Hipsters and mentally ill conspiracy theorists.

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