Dir. Dana Kippel (2023)
Five female friends go on a spiritual retreat that is also an obstacle course and also the galaxy's most popular gameshow.
Man, what a weird fucking movie. Straddling the border between science fiction and metaphysical avant garde, Reflect is a film that plays with hippy New Age philosophy in order to explore trauma and personal reflection in a way that is at once inwardly impactful and outwardly strange as all hell. By utilizing impressive, off-kilter cinematography gorgeous nature scenery, actress//writer/director Dana Kippel's manages to be visually interesting as it pushes the boundaries of narrative filmmaking. There are enough traditional storytelling elements present to make it a watchable film, and while it struggles to find its footing as something a larger audience will enjoy, it definitely has some meaningful psychological commentary and a unique and intriguing visual flair.
Friends Summer (Kippel), Katie (Grace Patterson), Liz (Jadelyn Breier), Annie (Marissa Patterson), and Nia (Ariana Brown) are heading to Sedona in an attempt to undergo a psychological journey (and possibly win some money) by successfully completing a bizarre New Age obstacle course. Unbeknownst to the group, they are also part of a reality gameshow called The Game of Life that is touted as the number one television show in the galaxy for over three million weeks. As the quintet attempt to pass through each psychological test, they are forced to confront the traumas of their past, as well as the self-inflicted problems of their present, in order to preserve for themselves a better and more fulfilling future.
Reflect is a difficult watch, in a way: it's filled to the brim with pop-psychology psychobabble and supernatural mysticism. While this doesn't lend itself to a story that is entirely coherent, it does allow for a lot of playtime for the cast and crew. There are plenty of interesting camera shots, from wide angle countryside views complete with an alien sky to skewed and shimmery science fiction scenes straight out of a Benson & Moorhead film. It's arthouse, to be sure, but it also feels like it does so out of necessity. There is not a complete narrative here, or at least not one that should be stretched to feature length. Kippel, who wrote the script for the film alongside directing and starring in it, has something to say: unfortunately, the bizarre and broken narrative prevents her from being able to articulate it in full.
That's certainly not to say that there's nothing to like about the film. The women do a fine job in their roles, as do several of their metaphysical tour guides along the way (most notably an impressively weird Joe Filippone as their initial guide Hermès). The film is also just about as indie as it gets. There are no recognizable faces, impressive production values for what is clearly a low budget indie film, and there's just enough "off" about the performances that it's easy to tell this isn't a film to come out of Hollywood's a-list studios. For my money, none of those things are negatives. If you're looking for a strange sci-fi flick with a little bit of freshman psych to go along with it, look no further.
All in all, Reflect does an excellent job of being interesting enough to hold its audience's attention despite never fully delivering what it promises. Kippel is one to look out for, however, because there's clearly a lot of talent here. Though it never completely fleshes itself out in this film, it's there, and that's something that is worth cultivating within the indie film community. I would definitely classify this film as more science fiction than horror, but there are enough bizarrely satisfying moments that it will definitely freak a few people out. For a film that feels inspired by a particularly lucid acid trip, it is perhaps best enjoyed in the same fashion.
Who this movie is for: Science fiction lovers, Avant garde film fans, Flower children
Bottom line: While Reflect likely won't find a huge audience, it doesn't particularly need to. It's an interesting and appealing film with something to say, even though it never quite finds its way to saying it. It's a gorgeously shot movie with adequate performances from its cast, and it's a nice introduction to director Dana Kippel's unique style of filmmaking. I'm hoping that she gets a bit more ambitious with her next outing, because there is a clearly a lot of talent there that is begging to be released. Hopefully next time it will be done a bit more interestingly and with a more coherent plot.