In the opening moments of the Indie Rights release ClearMind, you're likely going to be saying to yourself "I've seen this before."
On a certain level, you have seen this before.
On the surface, it would seem that ClearMind is going to be yet another sci-fi/thriller, a film set in the AI world because the AI world is all the rage these days.
Again, fair enough.
Yet, ClearMind offers more than just your sci-fi tinged thrills and chills. In fact, ClearMind offers quite a bit more.
ClearMind is, in fact, set within the world of AI, "artificial intelligence" for those not quite yet in the know. The film centers largely around Nora (Rebecca Creskoff, Claws), whom we meet at a Labor Day gathering poolside at the home she shares with her husband, Michael (Rob Benedict, Supernatural). It is a relaxed gathering, festive even, with friends Shannon (Toks Olagundoye, Frasier), her husband Tom (Kadeem Hardison, Moonhaven), Shelby (Jessica Meraz, Drunk History), Kate (Seana Kofoed, NCIS: Hawaii), Gary (Alec Mapa, Ugly Betty), David (Matt Peters, Orange is the New Black), Lily (Jenn Lyon, Dead Boy Detectives) and others.
We're not even minutes into ClearMind when we're thrust into the foundational event that will drive everything else that unfolds in the film. We've always known that life change in the blink of an eye and that's exactly what happens here. It's a rather freeze-framed moment, an accident it would seem, and suddenly Nora and Michael's young daughter Hannah (Sadie Glassner) is dead.
ClearMind jumps forward a year. Michael and Nora are now divorced, Michael has in some ways moved on and Nora is now engaged in an AI healing program designed for trauma patients and facilitated by Lily, working on her credentialing in said program and still learning its ropes. We catch on fairly quickly that Lily, who seemingly plays a bit loose with the therapeutic ethics here, is likely in over her head as both a professional and Nora's alleged bestie. Before long, it's revealed that Nora's longtime friends intend to gather at the lakeside home of Tom and Shannon.
Nora has not been invited.
It might be tempting to reduce ClearMind to being not much more than a sci-fi/revenge thriller. However, director Rebecca Eskreis builds a masterfully tense and darkly comical thriller that is practically bathing in grief-stained tears and repressed emotions now being full-on expressed by a completely dazzling Creskoff. It's difficult to describe just how good Creskoff is here, a grieving mother who may or may not be on the cusp of losing her sense of reality and who may or may not be living out her revenge. While the sci-fi is occasionally confusing, at least for this rather simplified soul, the witty and precise dialogue by Kofoed is brilliant and the storytelling remains riveting from beginning to end. Frustrated to the point of despair that her now ex-husband and seemingly all of her friends, Lily included, have moved on easily from such a profound loss, Nora's rage is fiercely relatable and remarkably sympathetic even in those moments when she's living out deeds, mentally and/or physically, that are understandable yet also on some level reprehensible.
While Creskoff's remarkable work dominates here, it's absolutely essential and true that this is a seriously strong ensemble. As arguably the nicest one here, Kadeem Hardison impresses with a lightness of being that is narratively vital. He tolerates his spouse, Shannon, even when we want to smack her thanks to Toks Olagundoye's deliciously irritating and agitating turn. Kofoed, also a producer for the film in addition to co-starring, is awkwardly hilarious as Kate, a woman whom you shouldn't be laughing at but you just can't help it. The always impressive Rob Benedict portrays Michael as human, neither the beast we kind of want him to be nor completely sympathetic. As Lily, Jenn Lyon leans beautifully into the mystery of her character and does a slow reveal that is quite effective.
The entire ensemble is strong.
Original music by Raphaelle Thibaut amplifies the film's varying tones, occasionally pushing us into heavy emotions while other times giving us permission to laugh. Lensing by Alexa Wolf is sublime at capturing the deceptive beauty of the setting and the ambiguity of AI amidst it all. Gordon Grinberg's editing gives the film a sort a sense of mystery while also giving the humor room to breathe.
Picked up by indie distributor Indie Rights, ClearMind is both intelligent storytelling and emotionally engaging filmmaking all wrapped into an entertaining cinematic bow by a terrific cast and crew. This is a film to watch for as it arrives on all your usual streaming outlets.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic