Director: Alan Smithee
Writer: Alan Smithee
Cast: Rebecca Brennan, Lis Hoffman
Running time: 6mins
Cinema is a hallucination. When telling a story in cinema it is the simplest thing to insert a hallucination within the hallucination. This is why Surrealists like Dali and Bunuel were attracted to the medium in its early days – the ability to transport dreams and phantasms seamlessly into the ‘reality’ of the text. Using this hallucinogenic medium, filmmakers have perennially explored the nature of mental trauma and of what some would term ‘delusions.’
An especial fascination for directors has been with cases of acute trauma when a character is unsure of whether the experiences they are undergoing and the characters and objects around them have any basis in reality – this can make for compelling cinema. At its best, film can provide us with insights into mental trauma and can help in the promotion of a greater understanding of its impact on those of us affected by it. Alan Smithee, in this short narrative film, attempts to address the issue by looking at the experience of one particular woman undergoing a particular traumatic episode.
The setting is New World European colonial Universal Suburbia – we guess from the accented English spoken that it is somewhere in Australasia. We are shown the eponymous Patricia (played by Lis Hoffman) approaching a house. Patricia’s presentation of self in society seems to be problematic – she makes strange noises and mutters to herself – we catch her saying “My home.”
We then see Bev (played by Rebecca Brennan) looking out of her front window. When Bev sees Patricia, she rushes out to confront her – telling her to “fuck off” and “don’t give me any weird shit like we are a couple.” So, the viewer gets a hint as to the meaning of the film’s title and we are being asked to speculate about the nature of the relationship between the two women.
Patricia is a woman of around sixty years and, as Bev seems to be around forty – so the viewer is drawn into speculation as to whether this is an extremely messed up mother/daughter relationship, or to consider the possibility that they might have been in a sexual relationship. Later in the film, the mystery is heightened when Bev uses the diminutive ‘Patty’ when shouting invectives at her psychic assailant.
Brennan and Hoffman are well cast. Hoffman, as Patricia, does silky, sweetness with an undercurrent of menace efficiently. Brennan, as Bev, puts in a stand-out performance, I loved her towering rage and righteous anger at what she is being made to endure.
Notably, Bev seems to have issues around presentation of self – her t-shirt has large stains from what appears to be excrement on the back. Our questioning of their relationship is reinforced when Patricia places her hands on Bev’s temple to calm her down, a gesture that is momentarily successful. Smithee slows the film down at this point and the accompanying soundtrack spirals into a dreamy fugue. This works exceptionally well – then bam! Bev snaps out of submission shouting at Patricia to “fuck off.”
What follows is a series of interactions between the two women during which Smithee provides us with various clues as to whether Patricia is a phantasm brought into life by Bev’s traumatised mental state. Bev screams out “I know you’re not real” and “Get out of me.” Therefore, by the end of the film, we are drawn to the conclusion that Patricia is in actual fact a hallucination, and her ‘wanting in’ refers to not only to the house, but entrance into Bev’s very psyche. The weighing of the balance as to whether Patricia has any reality outside of Bev’s imagination is the overriding preoccupation of the film.
The scenes are well caught by some good cinematography from Jesse Raffaele and Sana Brotherson. To reinforce the feeling of loss of control and of an increasingly violent response from Bev to Patricia’s intrusion, there is a well-judged soundtrack (sound is by Alec Thomas) – shards of metal, splintered and atonal. Meanwhile, the editing is not credited, so I am left to assume it was done by the director, but there is some impressive work here. I particularly enjoyed three moments.
First; the move to slow-motion when Patricia is calming down Bev mentioned earlier. Second, after the initial confrontation, Patricia retreats into the street, Bev gets on the phone to some sort of community watch hotline and lists a series of complaints against Patricia. As Bev outlines each item, for example Patricia sniffing the underwear on Bev’s washing line, the camera cuts to Patricia performing the act referred to. This is a clever idea and works to emphasise Bev’s dread at the threat posed by Patricia. Third, after the phone call an exasperated Bev picks up a guitar to vent her frustrations. As she hammers each cord, she shouts imprecations against Patricia, and we get staccato cuts to images of Patricia. Again, excellently done and it contributes to the viewer’s sense that things are definitively falling apart in Bev’s world.
There is one big issue with the film’s approach to the story however. It is desperately lacking in consequence, or insight. Patricia Wants In has a lot going for it but is, in essence, a pointless movie. The central question that Smithee is posing for the viewer is whether Patricia is a product of a traumatised woman’s imagination. The thing is, Bev is already in a bad way without Patricia in her head, and it isn’t really explained how things may now get worse – meaning your reviewer’s response to Patricia’s existence has to be; so, what?
Extremely well-acted, filmed and edited this might be, what insight does it give into mental trauma? For me, pretty much none, except the unremarkable one that deeply traumatised individuals can have their psychic space invaded by voices and visions that are beyond their control. By turning the question into a kind of ‘Whodunnit’ divertissement, the director has given us a deeply uncomfortable viewing experience, which arguably trivialises and belittles a very important topic, for the sake of relatively cheap titillation.
Watching Patricia Wants In brought to mind the early days of the Bedlam Hospital in London where the wealthy would go to watch for fun the antics of those incarcerated– That’s Entertainment. The director here has shown that they have the aptitude and skills set for the technical aspects of filmmaking. My advice to them before they embark on their next project would be to make sure they know why, apart from demonstrating their directorial wizardry, they want to make the film.