James Jay Edwards reviews Test Pattern, a dramatic film written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford, starring Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill. (Kino Lorber)
The #MeToo movement has spawned some truly important movies. Some, like The Invisible Man and Promising Young Woman, rely on metaphor to make their points. And then, there are movies like Test Pattern.
Test Pattern is about an interracial couple, Renesha and Evan (Brittany S. Hall from Ballers and Will Brill from The OA), in Austin, Texas. One evening, Renesha goes out with a girlfriend and doesn’t come home until the next morning, with very little memory of the night before. After hearing what she does remember, the worried Evan takes her to a hospital to have a rape kit performed. And this is where Renesha’s real nightmare begins.
(Test Pattern, theatrical release poster, Kino Lorber)
The debut feature from writer/director/producer Shatara Michelle Ford, Test Pattern was made by a hand-picked, tight-knit crew, so there’s a communal, improvisational feel to it (the original script was only 37 pages). Ford’s vision is divided neatly into three chapters. It starts off like a quirky romance, letting the audience get to know the blossoming relationship of Renesha and Evan. Then, it morphs into this surreal horror film as the couple’s ordeal plays out. And finally, it becomes a melancholic realist drama as the pieces fall where they inevitably do.
Test Pattern is a simple narrative, and it’s brilliant in that simplicity. Invoking similar somber vibes as films like Blue Valentine and Compliance, it’s essentially a slice of real life that plays out with disturbing results. It’s a slow-moving movie, but it also has a lot to say in its brief 82-minute running time. There are bold and powerful statements made about sex, consent, race, health care, and policing. And it’s not subtle. There’s no subtext. It’s all text. Test Pattern is calling out more than one broken system in America.
(Test Pattern, Kino Lorber)
The movie may be Renesha’s story, but the audience sees things mostly through the eyes of Evan. As the couple is pushed from one hospital to another, dealing with both red tape and uncaring professionals, the viewer experiences the same frustration and anger that Evan does, and it boils over in the same way. It should not be that difficult to have a rape kit done, and that is partially Ford’s point. Neither the health care workers nor the police are any help, and the audience just wants to scream out loud along with the characters.
Test Pattern is one of those movies that everyone should see. Not everyone will enjoy it, if “enjoy” is even the right word. But Shatara Michelle Ford has some things to say, and the way she says them is blunt and brutally honest. Test Pattern should open some eyes.
Test Pattern is playing in virtual cinemas and in select theaters now.
Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.