MENTALLY APART **** USA 2020 Dir: Joe Pomarico. 95 mins
“Maybe we were just never meant to be…” Conceived by editor-writer-director Joe Pomarico with his two stars Larry Bernardo and Christine James Walker, MENTALLY APART is a two-handed, one-set masterclass, shot in Long Island for $7K. Its release during a worldwide lockdown, offering the ultimate test for a substantial amount of relationships, only enhances its overall effectiveness. The climax offers a visual quote from THE SHINING, and Kubrick’s chilly study of isolation and confinement proves a key influence, starting with the initially specific date / time intertitles that devolve into the resentful blur of “too much time has passed”. The first act captures the excitement and intimacy of a union in its earliest form. Sascha Blank’s rich original score provides a sweepingly romantic soundtrack to laidback budding writer Bernardo and beautiful, thoughtful Walker falling in love. They’re two smart, independent people who share whiskey, talk about personal experiences and laugh about the kind of douchebags that typically populate the bar in which they met. The word “soulmates” is bandied about. One month later and the bond is still there, lamenting reality TV bullshit together and discussing society’s pressure / judgement on those without kids. But there’s a mysterious rotten smell in the apartment. Walker gets burned by oil while making dinner and seems to be getting very sick. Bernardo, an atheist, dismisses exorcisms as bunkum while she is fearful and believes in demonic entities.
Blank’s score becomes ever more discordant as mundane daily events – toothbrushing, an agonising sequence involving hair dye – become uncommonly alarming. Weird dreams and one truly jarring visual jolt tip the movie into pure horror territory while Pomarico channels the most nightmarish domestic worlds of David Lynch and Polanski (notably REPULSION). The true “horror”, however, comes from the raw, recognisable portrait of two well-suited people becoming toxic together. Mounting insecurities, personal insults, disappearing conversation and the growing need for privacy become the order of the day. Bernardo suffers writer’s block while Walker gets grey hairs and nags. The combined pressures of the gender gap, domesticity and inevitable conformity replace the initial spark of spontaneity. A doomed attempt to recreate the early highs simply results in a candlelit dinner with an all-new spiteful edge: “I love you so much I could eat your heart” / “If I give it to you, will you change?”. The soundscape heightens the banal annoyances of persistent flies and buzzing cell phones. An optimistic return to waistcoats and evening dresses is cruelly subverted by a superbly realised climactic twist. Bernardo is authentic in a tough role, though it’s Christine James Walker’s multi-layered, emotionally wrenching performance that provides MENTALLY APART with its heart and soul. She’s extraordinarily good in one of the stand-out character-driven genre movies of recent years.
Review by Steven West