All is Normal (2006)
Directed by Todd Bieber and Juliana Brafa
There are films where the less said about them, the better. These films are like delicate blooms constructed of intricate petals. Laying a physical finger on them would cause irreparable damage, and thus the display would be tainted for all who look after. It is a violation.
All is Normal lays itself out for desecration in the hands of unwieldy reviewers who use words like pruning shears to cut away the layers of mystery at its center. Yet, when we hack away all that is shading the true beauty within, doesn’t the color fade from the flower in the full glaring sun? Will it not wilt and die? It will. I assure you. All is Normal’s promise lies within its tightly wrapped petals. Time and patience must be given while watching the film. This is a slow bloom, taking a while to develop, for the process it must follow is complicated.
A beautiful young woman feels trapped within a hideous relationship with a controlling, abusive boyfriend. She sees solace from an abuse counselor who sets her up with a job watching an isolated house that is being put up for sale. No one will know where she is. Away from everyone, she will have nothing but her thoughts to keep her safe.
But given the hell she just emerged from, how safe are her thoughts?
And that is it. No more must be said. The journey the movie goes on is an exquisite trip down a road film rarely ever takes: constraint. Hitchcock would be proud to see that subtlety lives on in modern cinema. This is an exercise in quiet. The hush that falls over it allows any and all approaching footsteps to be heard even more distinctly, and it is then, when the reeds move, that we begin to feel unsafe. The almighty human predators become the prey.
At the center of all of this is Juliana Brafa as the young woman. Her big bright eyes and dark hair make her a stunning leading lady, but it is the effortless way she can fall into ever deepening states of panic, paranoia, and terror that lure us in to the innermost portions of Normal’s world. When Juliana reacts, she grabs the audience’s attention by the hand and drags them down with her. It is a great achievement, one that any Hollywood actress would love to be able to do and any Hollywood director would kill to have at his disposal.
Brafa co-wrote and co-directed the film with Todd Bieber. The two use an interesting color palette in the film. Visual cues are given as the film progresses. It is Kubrickian in use and artistically screams Argento. Again we compare to two more modern masters of restraint, whom Bieber and Brafa seem to have channeled. A painstaking amount of thought went into the functionality of the colors, and it pays off. Even if most people do not consciously notice it, it will still affect the way the movie plays out for them.
Alongside Brafa in the film is actor Duane Wallace as the controlling boyfriend. His performance is so pitch perfect, it is chilling to watch. There is no acting here. He IS this man. I have seen a lot of similar types of characters in films, each with varying degrees of success. Wallace is not just successful, he is brilliantly so. Never before in any other film have I seen it done so effortlessly. He sets a standard here that is as impressive as it is imposing.
Linda Blair pops in as the counselor. It is a short part and distinctly different from the roles into which Blair is usually pigeonholed. She is serviceable but seems a bit lackluster next to Brafa and Wallace. It does not injure the film, but it does glare into its brilliance a bit.
I love a movie that has a clever way of explaining its title. The moniker that labels a piece of art is not something to be taken lightly, and may hellfire rain down on those who just throw something inane up onto a film because it sounds cool (Gothika?). Thankfully, All is Normal sidesteps this pitfall. The title of the film is key to the central story at work here. Yet, for some reason Bieber and Brafa have made the choice to have it pointed out in a glaring voiceover. It really does the film a great disservice. For something so still, having the waters broken, by even the tiniest pebble, creates ripples.
Watch All is Normal as you would look at a garden in the spring. Look at all the promise that is sprouting up around you. Each new thing you see harkens to something even better to come. We can get lost in all the green surrounding us. It is a cool and comforting place to be, and we can get lulled into serenity by it. But beware; the longer you stay in this garden, the more it opens up. The green soon gives way. The sprouts form thorns, and in the end the red blossom shows its true form.
Shocking. Beautiful. Terrifying. You cannot look away.
4 out of 5
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