A slew of recent genre films, most of them helmed by women, have proven once and for all that fantastical stories are the perfect conduit for empathy. By placing the viewer in a bizarre situation, making them “feel for” a character becomes organic—who wouldn’t be terrified to find their body changing in some grotesque way? Lisa Brühlmann takes this principle to an unusually beautiful height in her debut feature film, Blue My Mind.
Screening last weekend as part of the 2018 Overlook Film Festival, Brühlmann introduces us to Mia (Luna Wedler), a 15-year-old girl who struggles to adjust to a new school after her distant father forces them to move. As she skips class to prove herself to the cool kids and butts heads with her parents, she realizes that her body’s puberty process is far from normal. She attempts to hide the changes from her parents, friends, and crushes, but she comes to realize that she can’t deny her true self.
Like Raw or Wildling, Blue My Mind expresses a teenage girl’s fraught, sometimes destructive self-discovery through an externalized element. Mia’s mysterious condition is undeniably unsettling, so we can’t write it off as simple brattiness or paranoia—we’d be freaking out, too. Brühlmann uses the macabre to grab our attention, then holds it as she spins a fairly standard coming-of-age drama. Mia endures bullying, fights with her misunderstanding parents, and has run-ins with strange men, all while her body alters itself. The horror is simply a part, and a small one at that, of Mia’s journey—one that builds toward a shockingly emotional climax.
This sort of film would collapse without a strong performance to anchor it, and Luna Wedler delivers a star-making turn, mainly through expression and breath. She grounds the fantastical occurrences with visceral reactions, something many horror films forget to do. Brühlmann, an actor herself, leads her supporting cast through a series of traumatic emotions with beautiful messiness and reality. The central “popular girls” are appropriately cold at first, but Brühlmann avoids turning them into a stereotype, as their connection with Mia is genuine.
Horror fans may not recognize the hallmarks of the genre here. On the surface, Brühlmann’s creation looks more like a sleeper hit from Sundance than a Gothic thriller. The camera is loose and observational through the sterile, almost anonymous environments, marked by a cold color palette often broken only by the girls’ lipstick. The score is ethereal and eerie, though not in a directly unsettling way. The film’s sequences are intense, but not scary. This speaks to their uniqueness, though, as the movie belongs to a category of fantastic films that use horror elements to express a fundamentally human story. It’s the kind of art that we hope to see more of, and on a bigger scale.
That doesn’t mean it’s without flaw. This writer found himself frustrated at times by the story’s pacing, which doesn’t allow for much exploration of mythology or concept beyond what we see, but Brühlmann’s film requires this realism to achieve her devastating climax. It isn’t really comparable to other body horror films, or even dark fantasies. It follows a pace of its own, and it rewards its viewer in an unexpected way. More 400 Blows than Ginger Snaps, Blue My Mind shows the possibilities within genre cinema, not only to viscerally affect us, but to teach us something about the human experience.
Movie Score: 4/5
Check here to catch up on our previous coverage of the 2018 Overlook Film Festival.