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By Bobby LePire | June 7, 2020

In Terell Lamont’s Ava, the prison of grief becomes a very real place for the titular character. Ava (Holly Westwood) is being held captive in a high-tech facility for reasons she does not know. Her only interaction is with the doctor (Hal Whiteside) performing the various experiments. He plays Ava memories of her husband (Matthew J. Plumb), though they are not always happy. The doctor also reminds Ava of her deceased child.

Ava feels isolated from everyone during her torture. One day, she hears a voice from the neighboring room. Ava discovers that the movie-loving doctor is “treating” other patients in the same fashion as her. Is Ava breaking from the experiments? Or is this another patient, and the two of them can help each other escape?

While remarkably different in style and tone, thematically Ava reminds me the most of The Bumblebee Flies Anyway. I do not know if anyone recalls this 1999 Elijah Wood, Janeane Garofalo starring drama, but I loved it when I was in high school. Without spoiling either film, they both deal with personal trauma and grief using technology, and the surrounding story is somewhat of a puzzle that the audience must piece together.

“…is being held captive…her only interaction is with the doctor performing the various experiments.”

Mind you, I haven’t seen The Bumblebee Flies Anyway in over a decade, so I have no clue how well it aged. What I do know is that writer-director Lamont has a robust and unique vision that he pulls off with aplomb. His use of color, paired with simple yet effective production design, make for a visually striking film. Whether it’s bathing Ava (the character) in red light as she attempts to figure out what’s happening or the eerie green in later scenes, the movie is a sumptuous feast for the eyes.

As Ava, Holly Westwood delivers a dedicated, at times, heartbreaking performance. In one scene, she is being tortured by the doctor and is horrified by him. Shortly thereafter, she is intrigued, if confused, by the voice coming from the next room over. Then, she has to become almost feral. Westwood nails all of it and sells this crazy sci-fi world very well.

Equally as good is Whiteside as the mad doctor. He plays the role with a lighthearted, comedic slant that makes his endgame all the more fearsome. Because he comes off as a funny guy, it is disarming to watch him do some of the more despicable things the character does. This unpredictability adds a layer of menace and foreboding to enter the film. Plumb brings a confident, no-nonsense presence to his role, which makes his few scenes very dramatic and engaging.

Ava (2020)

Directed and Written: Terell Lamont

Starring: Holly Westwood, Hal Whiteside, Matthew J. Plumb, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Ava Image

"…the surrounding story is somewhat of a puzzle that the audience must piece together."

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