Saturday, January 14, 2017

Gross Garbage: Clinical Fails On Every Front.

The Good: The actors do all right with the material they are given.
The Bad: Jumbled plot, Terrible characters, Vile imagery, Tone shifts from "psychological" thriller to "gore horror" in the latter half.
The Basics: Clinical is an unfortunate mess of a movie that is not at all worth watching.

When it comes to Netflix Original Films, I often find myself wondering just how the production company works. It seems like Netflix has two fundamental tiers when it comes to their film department: movies with big budgets and movies with no budget. That or Netflix spent so much money on locking up Adam Sandler for their studio that they cannot afford to make many other films with recognizable actors in them. Clinical falls into the second category of Netflix Original Films. When I sat down to Clinical, the only actor whose name I recognized was Wilder Calderon from the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Shadows" (reviewed here!) and the truth is, I probably would not even have known him by name (he was in a two-episode guest starring role!) had he not signed trading cards for the set.

Despite not having great name recognition and the fact that I stumbled upon Clinical, as opposed to it being advertised to me in Netflix when I open their app, I went into watching the film with an open mind. While I discovered that there were more actors in the piece I recognized - Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Nestor Serrano, and Kevin Rahm - my initial feeling that Clinical was not a film Netflix prioritized in any way when it came to budgeting was a perception that endured throughout the movie.  Unfortunately for all of the performers involved, the actors have nothing to do with how terrible Clinical is; the script is horrible and the direction changes from a creepy, psychology-based mystery/thriller into a flat-out gore and violence horror without any real subtlety or intrigue.

Dr. Jane Mathis is working late, calling in prescriptions for her clients and scheduling with clients up until almost midnight. When she hears a noise at the building she works at, she investigates and discovers her adolescent client, Nora, covered in blood. Nora attacks Dr. Mathis with a shard of glass before trying to kill herself. Two years later, Dr. Mathis decides she is ready to return to work. Mathis is dating a cop, Miles, and is seeing clients in her home when she gets a call from Alex, who wants therapy for his trauma. Mathis no longer treats trauma victims, but she makes an exception for Alex. Alex arrives at her house, having been in an accident, with his face severely damaged.

Alex is suffering from body dysmorphia and has trouble opening up to Dr. Mathis. Mathis is haunted by visions of Nora (like when she goes out running with a friend) and she has trouble relating to Miles when she tries to talk about how she feels around this time of year (Christmastime). In his therapy session, Alex slowly starts to open up about the accident that left him traumatized and disfigured. When Alex breaks into her house one night, Mathis discontinues his therapy. After that, Mathis begins to have vivid dreams and panic attacks about Nora. She becomes distracted during her sessions with clients and when Alex calls her after over-medicating himself, she rushes to his aid. Mathis sees Nora outside her home and then goes to visit the facility where Nora was treated after her assault. Mathis watches tapes of Nora's treatment and gets a home security system, but her nightmares about Nora keep getting worse and worse. Mathis's sense of reality starts to fall apart and she is hospitalized. But under the care of Dr. Saul, Mathis makes a horrific connection between Nora and Alex and she struggles to save herself from her nightmares and the truth.

Clinical is based on a very flaccid premise; that Mathis would suddenly start counseling a trauma victim simply because he asks. Alex was referred to Mathis, which seems like a horrible lapse in professional ethics on someone's part; any doctor who knew of the attack and how Mathis no longer treated trauma victims would not refer a potential patient to her. Two years out of the field is plenty of time for someone else to fill the niche and become the "best" doctor in the field. But, on the character level, the premise of Clinical is somewhat preposterous; the viewer is supposed to believe that for two years no one else has requested her services as a trauma specialist?! But beyond that, there is nothing so compelling in Alex's original request to Mathis that would make a compelling reason for Mathis to alter her "no trauma" policy.

Fans of psychological horror are likely to find Clinical unfortunately simplistic. Mathis is clearly (and reasonably) triggered by broken glass and the similarities between Jane and Alex's cases are much more obvious than they are clever. Jane is a self-medicating psychiatrist who is dealing with a trauma victim who talks very awkwardly about her trauma. The similarities between Mathis and Alex are palpable and painful and the tone quickly turns from creepy and unsettling to psychologically disturbing. The last half of Clinical is a vomit-inducing bloodbath laced with unsettling talk about child rape.

Yeah, it's that kind of movie.

Clinical has a teaser that is very unsettling. Nora's attack is ferocious and her on-screen suicide is pretty much impossible to watch. India Eisley plays Nora with the appropriate level of creepy; she moves with a fluidity in many of her scenes that is unearthly and stares menacingly completely unsettle the viewer. Her brief time on screen is upsetting both in the beginning and in the flashbacks. The ultimate confrontation between Nora and Mathis is flat-out gross and director Alistair Legrand does not pull punches on the imagery he uses when Mathis stops Nora.

Vinessa Shaw dominates Clinical as Dr. Mathis. Shaw speaks in measured tones and has a decent amount of control over her body language to make it believable that she is a therapist. Shaw is good when she plays frightened as well.

It seems, however, like it would be easy to act repulsed and scared working on a set that involves so many actors in so much gory make-up as comes into play in the last half of the film. I was initially intrigued by Clinical, but the movie descends into a mess from which even the most accomplished cast could not save it. Alex is not simply a dark psychological rendition of how Mathis sees herself following her trauma; he is an independent monster in his own right. But Alex's story and his descent into madness and control over Mathis is woven poorly into a story where Mathis questions her own sense of reality.

Instead of developing either of the plots or character threads well, they are mashed together in a series of images that are filled with blood, gore and overt violence that gut any sense of intrigue that the beginning of the film possessed. Clinical does not suffer because it is low-budget; it suffers because it is bad and gross. Netflix might not have spent a lot to make Clinical and perhaps they had a smart business model in mind with it; it is hard to imagine just who the audience is for Clinical and who would want to pay money to watch it. It is astonishing the film was made at all.

For other Netflix exclusive films, please check out my reviews of:
True Memoirs Of An International Assassin
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
Special Correspondents
The Fundamentals Of Caring
The Ridiculous 6


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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