Renesha’s just had a good first day at a new job and is looking forward to having a good second day, so she’s a little hesitant to go out and join her friend at their favourite place for a drink, but she vows to her boyfriend that it’ll just be a quick one, and she’ll be back home at a decent hour. Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) invites Evan (Will Brill) along of course, but drinks with the girls isn’t his thing, so he stays home and she goes out, and doesn’t return home that night at all. When she turns up the next morning, she’s been raped. Plied with free alcohol the night before, a man takes her back to his place, not just against her will, but when she’s so inebriated she no longer has any will at all.
The next day, Renesha and Evan will negotiate the difficult intersection of race and gender at the heart of the justice system and health care. But we’re not just talking institutional injustice and inequality; her private life is also unraveling. Director Shatara Michelle Ford examines this topic from every angle and none of them are flattering. The film doesn’t fall into the easy trap of victimhood, it’s much more complicated, intimate, and heartbreaking than that. Ranesha’s trauma is relived at every turn, and Hall’s performance is so nuanced we can see her being crushed in slow-motion.
You might mistake this for a small film but it packs a hell of a punch. Ford’s observations are as meticulous as they are tragic. Renesha suffers through so much: guilt, shame, embarrassment, resentment, self-recrimination, anger, even doubt, and that’s before uncaring institutions start revictimizing her. Sexual assault is obviously a sensitive topic but also a necessary one. Ford treats it with respect and specificity, but the film’s greatest achievement is also its most devastating: naked realism.
Test Pattern is available through virtual cinemas, including Toronto’s Revue Cinema and Vancouver’s The Cinematheque.