Horse Girl: A surreal dramedy on mental illness (or aliens)?

Horse Girl follows a woman named Sarah (Allison Brie), an introvert who doesn’t seem to have much of a social life outside of her friend and co-worker, Joan (Molly Shannon), who she works at an arts and crafts store with. Sarah loves horses and spends her evenings alone watching a supernatural show called Purgatory. When she begins to have surreal dreams and finds herself waking up in strange places–losing time–she is drawn into a world of increasing paranoia and has difficulty distinguishing her visions from reality.

Sarah begins to believe that when she loses time she is being abducted by aliens, and that she is a clone of her grandmother. We also learn that her grandmother was diagnosed with mental illness and had had similar visions during her life, and that Sarah’s mother had killed herself. The film is interested in juxtaposing the supernatural with mental illness, and with examining the nature of truth and our own individual perceptions of reality. Is it possible that Sarah really is being abducted by aliens, or is she mentally ill? Horse Girl starts out on a light, cheery tone, and, at first, Sarah’s perceptions of the world and how others react to her increasingly strange theories is darkly comedic, but as the film goes on, we no longer want to laugh at Sarah’s thoughts about what is happening to her, because it is clear that something serious is going on, though what that something is is left for our interpretation. It makes the viewer question how we as a society treat mentally ill and vulnerable individuals whose truth seems vastly different from most people’s reality. Rather than laughing at or dismissing their perceptions of the world, we should be trying to sympathize more and validate those perceptions, and the film smartly aligns us with Allison throughout so that we can sympathize with her and see the world through her eyes.

There are moments in the film that will have you wishing for a more in-depth study of both mental illness and alien abduction, but the film never commits to either one and leaves you questioning what the truth really is. I wish the film would have taken more of a stance on these topics, because, although it is an intriguing film, we are left with what feels like two separate halves that don’t quite add up to a whole film. But there are still many compelling scenes in the film, it does raise some thought-provoking questions, and, overall, I think it is worth a watch.

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