Ever since John Cusack stepped onto floor 7½ in 1999’s Charlie Kaufman-penned Being John Malkovich, the landscape of indie cinema has not been the same. Kaufman – writer, turned director – has treated audiences to his own brand of off-beat tragicomedy time and time again, where his grating cynicism leads you down an ever-changing, oft-comedic, constantly depressing valley in which the only consistent conclusion is that it’s really, effing difficult to be a person.
Adapting his latest work – I’m Thinking of Ending Things – from Iain Reid’s debut novel of the same name, Kaufman doesn’t so much detour from his ever-present themes of identity, loneliness and morality as he does completely fold everything in on itself to reveal an odd, unsettling account of life and the lives that could have been.
The ever-reliable, star on the rise Jessie Buckley stars as ‘Young Woman’ (referred to throughout the movie by several names including Lucy, Louisa and Ames), who is taking a trip to her boyfriend Jake’s (Jesse Plemons) family home to meet the parents (David Thewlis and Toni Collette, both in exceptional form). In the midst of all this, we become privy to the fact that she’s considering breaking up the relationship and thus is our entry point into the story. However, it’s not long before things – as they are wont to do in Kaufman’s material – begin to shift and the viewer is repeatedly and deliberately thrown off centre. What year is it? Who said that? What’s her name? It’s a punishingly hostile experience on a first watch, but one with elegance in the mysteries that will undoubtedly reward analysis, exploration and – not unsurprisingly – repeat viewings.
Marketed as a horror film of sorts, I’m Thinking of Ending Things will disastrously fail to appease those who enjoy bumps in the night to come thick and fast, packaged with overt dissonant scores. For those who like their horror, or more accurately their unease, of the psychological and existential variety in which one can ponder the nature of relationships and the inevitability of our own demise then this is sure to be a film to make you feel small, unimportant and full of regret. Kaufman isn’t so much interested in startling his audience as he is at speaking to the little voice inside their head, forcing emotions and instinct usually ignored to gain traction. This is bold, uncompromising, pit-of-your stomach stuff – peak 2020 for sure.
Available to stream on Netflix now