Psychological thrillers focus on the internal plight of characters whose sense of reality is becoming more distorted and whose mental state is slowly declining. These films are often fueled by an overarching aura of paranoia and dread. That unease is effectively developed in writer/director Daria Nazarova’s feature debut, The Shattering, which is rooted in intrigue and deceit.
Claire (Murisa Harba) is a young married woman with a newborn. Her husband, Eric (Timothy Ryan Cole), is successful and money is not necessarily a problem, but she can’t help but feel disconnected from him. Claire typically wakes up around six to begin her day while her exhausted husband sleeps in. She checks on the baby, makes coffee, and goes over her to-do list. However, after finding a strand of hair that may not be hers, Claire begins to wonder if her husband is having an affair.
Eric comes home having already eaten dinner, and he goes to the gym three times a week. He must be cheating, right? Well, Claire is an unreliable narrator who struggles to retain her grasp on reality as memories and fantasies flood her mind. Her sanity is tested to the point that a therapist, Monica (Charlotte Beckett), is called. Things are not what they seem from Claire’s perspective, and for the most part, Nazarova’s screenplay engages and surprises with a dramatic sequence of events that is not to be trusted.
The Shattering is a character-driven thriller that is coated in ambiguity. Michael Wyckoff’s piano-centric score is plaintive and eerie, helping to uphold the aura of trepidation. Sean Emer’s camerawork regularly gives the characters room to breathe, which is a nice contrast to Claire’s mental instability.
“…Claire begins to wonder if her husband is having an affair.”
The first indication that Claire is mentally struggling is when she gets her mother’s voicemail and persists in going back and forth with someone who isn’t there. It is a strange and concerning occurrence that happens more than once, perhaps suggesting that she is mourning her mother’s passing, but that remains unclear. The legitimacy of Claire’s suspicions about her husband’s infidelity is also in question. Nazarova does a fine job keeping the protagonist and viewers on edge by interlacing the past and present in real and delusive ways. There are apparent gaps in memories or dialogue that lead viewers to the wrong conclusion.
Harba’s understated performance does not convey Claire’s apparent grief or budding insanity through unbridled anger. Instead, she veers toward desperation, clinging to Eric for attention. The character’s behavior becomes progressively unusual and harmful for herself and her husband. A capable Timothy Ryan Cole plays opposite Harba as the intriguingly frazzled husband. For most of The Shattering, the husband’s potential affair lingers throughout, up until the ending, when the film’s true intentions are revealed.
Those final moments change everything, for better and worse. For better because Nazarova unearths emotional value that wasn’t there before. For worse because the ending, while outwardly cold and harrowing, lacks vigor because Claire is not given the time to reflect on her reality. Also, the final scene is written to be scarily abrupt and histrionic, but the execution and overall effect are rather mild.
Daria Nazarova’s The Shattering does not quite stick the landing, as it peters out. Still, the film is a gripping domestic thriller that subverts expectations, supported by a strong script and solid performances. Overall, this low-budget thriller nicely balances domestic anxiety and psychological unrest, making the movie’s escalating drama and Claire’s paranoia sharply enticing.
"…a gripping domestic thriller that subverts expectations."