★★★ out of ★★★★★
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
I mean, really, who are we to ever question the greatness of the great Charlie Kaufman? A visionary. A cinematic poet. A deep thinker that throws head-scratchers our way every chance he gets. A repertoire filled with unimpeachable films. One after another.
BUT, he’s never really dabbled in the horror genre, nor has he dealt with a storyline so chilling, unnerving, and downright baffling. And it kind of shows.
Much like all his previous work Charlie Kaufman turns in a real puzzler with 2020’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Based on the book of the same name, by Iain Reid, Kaufman’s weird-fest follows Young Woman (Jessie Buckley) — yep, that’s her name in the movie and the book — and boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons). Mostly told through the perspective of Young Woman, and largely acknowledged by her hyper-quirky betrothed, Jake. The two leave the confines of academia for a quick and snowy jaunt to Jake’s parent’s house. All the while, the two pick apart the universe and the very personal intricacies of life’s oddball offerings. The conversations are purposely stilted, nonsensical, and dreamy.
Making the entire affair extra stilted, Kaufman consciously chooses to shoot the entire film in a 1:1 perfectly square aspect ratio. It confines the conversations and gently places all the action in a perfect box. It’s a cool device that works in the same way as deliberate architecture that forces you to both look at, and out of, a certain window.
As we mentioned in our review of Iain Reid’s book, “…all the while Jake and his protagonist gal pal dissect the universe over the course rather interesting dialogues about the human condition, what it means to be in a relationship, and the ultimate test of any intimate relationship— when is a lie really a lie? The graduate level philosophical entwinement between our narrator and Jake is deep and satisfying and clips along at a believable and forthright manner. Yet, the entire time, lingering in the background is the idea that things could quickly becoming to an end.” Sadly, while Jake and Young Woman cover a lot of territory this critical discussion of the foundation of relationships is largely left out of the film.
When the pair arrives at Jake’s parent’s house the weird gets ratcheted up but quick. Jake’s awkwardly disturbing parents wonderfully, played by Toni Collette (Heriditary) and David Thewlis (2006’s The Omen), wander in and out of time and space. They age, disappear, re-age, and devolve right before Jake and the Young Woman’s eyes. As the dreamscape begins to get under Young Woman’s skin, the pair rightly decides to escape the impending snow storm and head back the ease of the big city — but not before an inexplicable stop by a nearby high school.
While Kaufman truly knows his way around a camera and some ethereal story telling, his chops unfortunately don’t include the nasty world of horror. Many of the horror images and tension built by Iain Reid are plainly left by the wayside. Which is not to say, Kaufman’s re-imagination of Reid’s thrilling tale is incomplete, it’s just void of horror. Don’t expect Freddy and Jason to show up. Don’t expect a belt of gore. Do expect superb acting, quixotic story telling, and an outcome that just might mystify you.
If you really want to get spooked — read the book.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is Rated R and currently streaming on Netflix.