A Sluggish Pace and Lackluster Script Fail to Gel Ultrasound‘s Mystery

Movies Reviews Rob Schroeder
A Sluggish Pace and Lackluster Script Fail to Gel Ultrasound‘s Mystery

Humans are innately curious, and when presented with a puzzle, we want to solve it. Because this impulse lives in me, too, I was excited to jump into Rob Schroeder’s mind-bending Ultrasound and discover the truth of the mystery at its core. I’d thought I signed up for a grand, fleshed-out sci-fi story with a tinge of madness at its peak, but what I ended up with was a slow, mediocre mesh of absurdity and puzzling plot that isn’t quite as fulfilling as it hopes to be—and it’s a shame, because the core of its story is strong.

Ultrasound tells three stories in one. First, we meet a man named Glen (Vincent Kartheiser) who gets into car trouble and, after getting help from Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez) and her husband, starts to question his sanity. At the same time, Katie (Rainey Qualley) deals with a secret romantic relationship that seems to teeter into gaslighting territory. All the while, medical professional Shannon (Breeda Wool) begins to question a research study she is a part of, suspecting it isn’t as harmless as advertised.

It’s undeniably intriguing, and with three storylines at play, it’s hard not to get sucked in, if for no other reason than to figure out how the characters intertwine. It’s one of those movies that requires every ounce of your attention, because there are clues everywhere—and because of that, it’s definitely going to have that cult classic rewatchability for folks who love bleak sci-fi and mystery. Tonally, it feels like a cross between Black Mirror and Memento, but the reality of the story isn’t exactly as twisty as either. In fact, the big reveal is more true-to-life than you would expect, and the methods used to achieve what is revealed are also based in reality. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the mid sci-fi container those realism tent poles exist inside of, but it slightly cheapens the film’s bigger picture. Why set up something so much larger than life if it’s going to end up so plausible in our modern world?

For all its twists and turns, Ultrasound takes a little too long to get moving and start providing answers, which makes it easy to get impatient. That can turn into disinterest, depending on how hooked you were from the start. Things pay off to a degree when you get to the big reveal, but it made me wish we’d gotten there a little bit sooner. The delay makes things a bit less satisfying when it all starts coming together, but it doesn’t entirely diminish the effect: A few bright points prop it up and keep the sluggish pace from sinking the ship.

With gaslighting as its central theme, Ultrasound stretches the notion in a literal way and tackles the concept head on without any sugar-coating. While that can sometimes be a negative in a project, this directness is actually the main aspect of the writing that succeeds. Otherwise, Conor Stechschulte’s script is a bit stiff, with rigid dialogue and underdeveloped, archetypal characters. Considering how the film plays with the universal terrors of gaslighting, maybe that archetype concept was by design—but it doesn’t play like it. Looking at the script from a broader perspective, even if the film’s story is compelling enough as a concept, the screenplay just doesn’t support the breadth of what’s at stake in the fragile world of the film. To that end, the cast does a fine job with what they’re given, but there isn’t much to write home about because the material doesn’t match its captivating concept. Since the script doesn’t rise to the occasion and support the stakes, the actors have to mold it to their advantage. They do that here, but what they’re doing is unmistakable.

However, there is something that really shines in Ultrasound: The direction. Schroeder’s work stands out amidst weak characters and dialogue, and does a lot of heavy lifting to make the good parts of the narrative stand out. The filmmaker employs fun, stylized shots—especially in the movie’s opening sequence, which does an excellent job of drawing you in. Additionally, his focus on these characters’ psyche and how they’re affected throughout the film’s run is palpable. He concerns himself with spiraling sanity like only a director can, framing the characters in dreamy close-ups and orchestrating their increasingly dramatic and disconcerting descents into madness with quick cuts and dizzying camerawork. It brings you into the characters in a way the script does not, and it’s a welcome layer to a film that wouldn’t have nearly as much emotional life without it. Schroeder’s eye is right on the money for Ultrasound, spotlighting the best bits of a lackluster script with heightened visual play. If only the other, crucial parts of the film lived up to the vision in his head.

Director: Rob Schroeder
Writer: Conor Stechschulte
Stars: Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool, Tunde Adabimpe, Rainey Qualley
Release Date: March 11, 2022

Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.

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