Alexia (Maxime Bonett) is a young woman in her mid-20's. We meet her as she's sitting in an office appearing, it would seem, to be in at least a bit of distress. Her therapist, Dr. Ecorn (Adam Zellen), is sitting opposite her.
The exchange, in its opening moments, is familiar yet pointed. We've seen therapy scenes before. Some of us, myself included, have lived therapy scenes. Alexia is seeking help to relieve anxiety, though Dr. Ecorn seems to intuit there's something more. He encourages a digger deep into a particular event.
At just under eight minutes, Unravel is an exploration of the importance of mental health, therapy, and healing for survivors of trauma and, perhaps more specifically, childhood sexual abuse. While the world is more open to talking about abuse than it once was, at least in many countries, the truth is that it's still a taboo subject for many and a source of shame for those who experience. With Unravel, Bonett confronts this taboo head-on as Alexia reveals the true nature of her trauma through Dr. Ecorn's use of EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). While we sit immersed with Alexia amidst her growing discomfort with the therapy, EMDR has proven time and again to be successful in helping those who've experienced trauma and one gets the sense that Alexia is now beginning what will be an undeniably challenging journey of healing.
It's almost cliche' to say that one can tell that Unravel is a passion project for Bonett, who stars in, co-directs, and writes the project. Bonett acknowledges finding inspiration within her own childhood trauma for Unravel, though it was watching Tom McCarthy's 2015 film Spotlight that really fueled the actress's desire to begin speaking more openly about it.
We should all be grateful she did.
It's worth noting, of course, that one couldn't possibly get the fullness of this story in eight minutes. This is, in essence, an introduction and yet a vital one. It's a glimpse inside the early stages of acknowledging one's truth and moving toward healing. It's a realistic film that avoids histrionics and it's clear that Bonett trusts the power of the story without adding any extra dramatic flourishes. Bonett herself is riveting here, both achingly vulnerable and impossibly strong as she comes face-to-face with memories she's most likely tried for years to repress.
So too, Adam Zellen is impressive as Dr. Ecorn, quietly nuanced mannerisms extremely familiar to anyone who's ever sat in the therapeutic chair. Again, no dramatic flourishes are necessary as the story itself says everything.
Lensing by Matt Thomas is effective throughout, intimate yet never invasive. It's so easy for these types of films to feel exploitative of their subjects, however, Thomas never crosses that line while taking us into Alexia's therapeutic process.
Brenda Rundle's production design for the film is also impressive in capturing the sort of neutral nature of a warm and inviting therapeutic setting.
It is difficult to be a storyteller when one is telling a story that has shades of one's own experiences, however, Bonett nicely structures Unravel in a way that feels both personal and universal. Her sense of vision here is strong and this directorial debut, working alongside Yorgo Glynatsis, is impressive. Unravel is just beginning its festival journey and is a short film to watch for along the way. Made in the U.K., Unravel should easily find success on the indie and microcinema fest circuit.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic