Fairly early on in Paint It Black, the movie slips from a stark, gothic tale that follows Josie (Alia Shawkat), overwhelmed by the apparent suicide of her boyfriend Michael (Rhys Wakefield) into an overlapping montage of hypnotic, strobing imagery. The directorial debut of actor Amber Tamblyn (Girlfriend’s Day), it starts off in a standard, slightly brooding manner, letting us into Josie’s life amidst her mild irritation with Michael’s prolonged absence.
After a night out partying, she’s woken up to a phone call from a detective that ends with her at the morgue having to identify Michael’s body. Distraught with grief, Josie’s path soon crosses with Michael’s mother, Meredith (Janet McTeer), and while they begin their relationship rather unpleasantly, the two eventually become drawn to one another despite (or because of) a mutual resentment. It quickly evolves into a kind of schizophrenic codependence, each one resenting the other for what’s happened, while each of them make concerted efforts to make the other’s life as miserable as possible.
Tamblyn proves her ability to walk a kind of art-house tightrope, creating moments of stunning, silent beauty while flirting with over-indulgent cinematography while never quite succumbing to it. Though she does wander significantly away from convention often enough that the film’s impact might be lost on any kind of casual viewing.
Those who commit to the experience, however, will be treated to raw, almost runaway creativity, as Shawcat delivers a powerhouse performance, wrangling in a wide spectrum of Josie’s emotions that acts like a nonlinear kaleidoscope across a brief section of her life. Already an accomplished actor in the world of indie film, Shawcat approaches a kind of next-level performance here, indulging alongside Tamblyn’s alternately gazing, then punishing lens, disrupting conventional cinematic sensibility in favor of a much more visceral attempt at storytelling.
While it’s definitely not a film for everyone — some will find it definitively off-putting — Paint It Black is a soaring, strobing, wholly unique experience that manages to assault your senses as easily as it comforts them.
Paint it Black is now playing in select cities.