A woman, our unnamed protagonist, gets into boyfriend Jake’s car. After just 7 weeks of dating, they are driving to meet his parents for dinner at their secluded farm. The woman (Jessie Buckley) doesn’t particularly want to go, she’s got stuff to do, and she’s been concerned about some bizarre phone calls, but more importantly, she’s thinking of ending things. We are privy to these unvoiced thoughts as she and Jake make their snowy drive, but she keeps them from him. Or at least she thinks she does. Does she? They discuss life and philosophy in strange and circular ways, they quote poetry to each other, and we see flashes of someone else’s life, a school janitor. Whose memories are these? We don’t know.
Pulling up to the farm, Jake (Jesse Plemmons) tempers his girlfriend’s expectations with some warnings about his parents, who may come off as odd. The girlfriend starts to wonder if they’re even expected or indeed welcome, but such thoughts are quickly swept away when his mom (Toni Collette) pelts her with prying and invasive questions all dinner long and his dad (David Thewlis) seems more and more angry. Right around dessert time, what has up until now been merely creepy starts to turn toward the surreal. Time, identity, and memory start to dissolve, and as the girlfriend begins to doubt herself, so do we. Meanwhile, that mysterious janitor only seen in flashbacks (flash forwards? flash sideways?) is now watching a film directed by Robert Zemeckis, and our own director Charlie Fucking Kaufman, seems really intent that we watch along with him. But why, Kauf? Why?
Back on the road, with a blizzard coming down around them, wrapping the car in a bubble of white, we’re feeling off-kilter, disoriented, disturbed, claustrophobic. And the Jake leaves the dark and deserted road to take an even darker, more deserted road. Turn back, you want to scream, you know they should, but they don’t.
If you were a fan of the book by Iain Reid, you’ll have some idea of what awaits them ahead, but you won’t be totally right. It’s Charlie Kaufman who’s adapted this, and the dude has some IDEAS. All told, I think the movie ends up less scary than the book, but weirder, if you can believe it. And it’s Kaufman we’re talking about, so you best believe it. If you’re a fan of his, you knew you were in for a strange and unique experience, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
There are strings pulled in the very beginning that see you through to the end if you were alert enough to follow them, and not distracted by the red herrings, or the terrific and layered performances by the cast. Luckily Netflix is the perfect home for such a movie. If you’re into this kind of thing, you can immediately give it a rewatch, searching for those breadcrumbs, reinterpreting with the benefit of a view or two under your belt. And it’s still not enough, but it’ll give you a fighting chance. Kaufman’s movies reward your due diligence. They’re meant for cinema snobs who will invest their time and energy into a story, who are willing to work for it, and work at it. Deciphering the ending is its own adventure, and in some ways I suppose you get to choose your own – it’s ambiguous, unexpected, and a little bit haunting considering Kaufman’s leaving us with his own spin on longing, regret, and the frailty of the human condition.
Best of luck.