A mentally ill woman who’s been submerging her violent impulses for years unravels after she marries a controlling older man and relocates to his suburban home.
Poor Isabella Celaya. In Adam Cushman’s horror-thriller hybrid Restraint, the young actress is yelled at, tortured – and worse – without so much as a hint of justification provided for those grueling ordeals. I wonder how Cushman prepared the actress for the thankless role – but then again, I don’t see much point to any of the happenings in this nonsensical mishmash of disparate scenes that lurch from one to the other, providing little context or reason for us to be engaged. Maybe the filmmaker had something deep to say, but with next-to-no connecting thread and little backstory to the two main characters, Restraint’s entire plot can essentially be whittled down to a bunch of nut-jobs being cruel to each other.
“Newlyweds Jeff and Angela aren’t exactly experiencing post-nuptial bliss, with nary a word between them…
Split into chapters, starting with January and ending in June; Restraint begins compellingly enough. Newlyweds Jeff (Dana Ashbrook) and Angela (Caitlyn Folley) aren’t exactly experiencing post-nuptial bliss, with nary a word between them to echo through Jeff’s darkly-lit, despondent mansion. Jeff’s wife left him and his daughter Maddie (Celaya) a little while back with no explanation – but he finds solace in Angela’s…whatever it is (beats me). Things start to turn weird when Jeff insistently films Angela on his DSLR camera, while she counter-balances the weirdness by sleepwalking and contorting her body into unnatural poses in the shower.
Angela’s creepiness escalates: she applies copious amounts of wallpaper in an empty room at night, passes out while using the bathroom, and purposefully makes herself bleed with the oddest of tools. Her neglect of Maggie morphs into cruelty; one particularly unpleasant instance involves water-boarding torture. We discover Angela used to be on a slew of medications and has a “condition.” “New environments are tough,” her therapist tells her. “It’s tough to adapt.” “Tough” may be an underestimation, considering what unravels next. Angela’s pregnant, you see, and her crazed mind may have concocted an evil plan.
Let’s get the burning questions out of the way: Why didn’t Jeff notice or react to Angela’s obvious insanity prior to marrying her? Why doesn’t little Maggie escape from a car with obvious early-1990’s door locks? Does it all have something to do with the berry Angela consumes early on in the proceedings? What is the point of it all?
“…like two pinballs, they awkwardly bump against each other, being mean or cold for the sake of it.”
Ashbrook portrays Jeff as both rational/caring and a total controlling dick – his performance vacillates between the two with such extremes, it steals the psycho-thunder from the supposedly lead-psycho, Angela. Folley, in contrast, imbues her Angela with a subliminal menace, but it comes off increasingly forced. The episodic structure, leaping forward from month to month, doesn’t help substantiate their relationship, ground it in any semblance of reality. There’s no chemistry between the two; like two pinballs, they awkwardly bump against each other, being mean or cold for the sake of it.
Restraint should have had more excess. Perhaps it would’ve worked as a farce, a phantasmagorical, theatrical, balls-out descent into madness. If Cushman’s mean-spirited flick is about the toxicity of our male-dominated society, it lacks subtext and focus. Neither does it seem like the filmmaker’s making a statement about female empowerment, Restraint’s lead committing unspeakable acts. So it just sits there, not quite gelling, structurally or thematically. “He liked my use of language on a sentence level,” Angela tells Jeff at one point, referring to her writing class teacher. Perhaps Cushman should take that bit of nonsensical wisdom into consideration when he’s writing his next script.
Restraint (2018) Written and Directed by Adam Cushman. Starring Dana Ashbrook, Caitlyn Folley, John Hensley, Geoffrey Rivas.
4 out of 10