Sundance 2020: Horse Girl

Alison Brie appears in Horse Girl by Jeff Baena, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Horse Girl features a superb performance from writer-star Alison Brie while the film also has something to say about mental illness.

Sarah (Alison Brie) works at an arts and crafts store with Joan (Molly Shannon).  While it pays the bills, Sarah would rather be taking care of her favorite horse or watching her favorite supernatural TV show.  Much to the dismay of roommate Nikki (Debby Ryan), of course.  Nikki does her best to get Sarah to meet her boyfriend’s roommate, Darren (John Reynolds).  It isn’t long after we first meet Sarah that she starts to have dreams that are very vivid in nature.  On first glance, it looks like it might be a serious case of sleep-walking but there’s more than just that.

At one point, Sarah starts believing that she’s the clone of her grandmother.  The idea is so crazy that it can’t even be believed.  But at the same time, there’s really something to be said here about mental illness.  Listen, some films have a way of screwing up their message but Horse Girl doesn’t.  At least I didn’t think so upon initial viewing at Sundance.  But then again, the elevation hit me so hard during the first weekend! I digress.

With what’s happening during the film, it requires the necessary quick cuts in order for us to buy into what’s happening.  There is also an impressive set design when it comes to the dream sequences.  This is mostly in an area that is nothing but white.

The large majority of this cast comes from a comedy background.  Despite their background, this film is certainly not a comedy.  I mean, there are aspects of humor in the film but it plays more to the dramatic side.  I’d probably classify it as a dark comedy if anything.  Speaking of the humor, there are times where you can’t help but laugh.  Given the film’s aspect with regards to mental illness, you also can’t help but feel bad for laughing.  I know, I know–but it’s true!  I’ll add that Alison Brie delivers in her performance.  Brie’s performance is also able to elicit some empathy from the audience.  You can’t help but feel for Sarah especially with what she’s going through.

This film is as far as it gets from The Little Hours a few years ago.  Horse Girl isn’t the outrageous comedy that The Little Hours was in 2017.  Granted there’s still room for improvised dialogue but that’s just the way that a filmmaker like Jeff Baena works when directing a film.  If it works, it works!

Horse Girl is certainly the type of film that will benefit from repeat viewings.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing because there’s so much to take in here.

DIRECTOR:  Jeff Baena
SCREENWRITERS:  Jeff Baena & Alison Brie
CAST:  Alison Brie, Debby Ryan, John Reynolds, Molly Shannon, John Ortiz, Paul Reiser, and Jay Duplass

Horse Girl held its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program. Netflix will open the film in theaters and streaming on February 7, 2020. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.