Fantasia Film Festival Review: Ultrasound (2021)

Featured image: Vincent Kartheiser and Breeda Wool in Ultrasound. (Courtesy of Fantasia.)

Directed by Rob Schroeder. Written by Conor Stechschulte. Starring Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool. Runtime 1h 43 min. This film had its International Premiere as part of the Fantasia Film Festival on August 6, 2021.

I’ll start by saying that I’m going to be extra mindful of spoilers during this review of Ultrasound, a film which just premiered on Fantasia’s second evening. This is because it’s a film best seen for yourself. The film’s premise, at its most basic, is this: A man called Glen (Vincent Kartheiser) pops his tires while driving along a winding road on his way home from a wedding. I thought the winding road could hint at all the twists thrown at us throughout the film.

Stranded with flat tires, he sees an isolated house; and he steps up to the home and is invited inside by its owners, Art (Bob Stephenson) and his wife Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez). From the opening scene, the dialogue and situation compels as Glen finds himself in a strange situation. I wasn’t sure what to make of Art when he’s first introduced, as the actor playing him, Bob Stephenson, totally looks like he could be a friendly neighbour on a sitcom. Stephenson’s performance turns out to be one of the highlights of the film as Ultrasound’s mystery is unpacked.

That’s the coolest thing about this high-concept sci-fi, that we’re not really sure what to expect from the film. Early on, we’re questioning our reality because of certain style and visual cues, and that’s part of the fun. The world building feels vast, and that’s because of Conor Stechschulte’s screenplay, which he based off his graphic novel Generous Bosom. One exciting aspect is that this is Stechschulte’s first screenplay, as well as director Rob Schroeder’s first feature film as director. They both show a sure hand with this story and I’m excited for each of their next projects.

In its visuals and aesthetic, I was reminded of Anthony Scott Burns’ Come True, a great film that played at Fantasia last year about a strange sleep study.  They’re fundamentally different films where its similarities mostly come from its polished sets in a hospital, as well as both having fascinating concepts that work psychology into their plotlines. They’re also both twisty and topsy-turvy, but very much their own beasts.

FIRST WAVE
Vincent Kartheiser and Breeda Wool in Ultrasound. (Courtesy of Fantasia.)

For the character work, they all feel so distinct and they’re all portrayed memorably. The pairing of Glenn and Cyndi both impress as they unpack this mystery, and Art is fascinating, too. As well, the way other side characters like a young woman named Katie (Rainey Qualley) and others are brought into the film feel seamless. Breeda Wool (known for playing Lou Linklatter on TV’s Mr. Mercedes) has such a compelling arc in the film, and such a peculiar introduction.

And that’s totally the thing with this film, it is peculiar. It’s also completely hypnotizing because it’s so well-structured that, from the beginning, I was hanging onto every scene, wanting to learn more and get to the bottom of what’s going on. Then, around the 50-minute mark, we really start to get answers and learn what the plot’s doing, and I was just fascinated by that point because of the often-unpredictable web that it weaves.

To draw another parallel to another film I love, Zach Lipovsky and Adam B. Stein’s Freaks, I thought that film had a similar structure. Both films have compelling, though somewhat vague first halves as we’re not completely show what’s going on. Then, it settles in and everything makes sense, setting up for a great second half. I enjoyed Freaks more on my second viewing because you actually know what they’re doing from the start, and I think a second watch of Ultrasound will be just as exciting for similar reasons.

Score: 75/100

Ultrasound had its International Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on August 6, 2021 (after having its World Premiere at Tribeca in June). For Canadian film fans (as the festival is geo-blocked to Canada), you can catch the encore, virtual screening of the film on Sunday, August 8 at 9:00 a.m. Find tickets here.

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