Review: ‘Ultrasound,’ starring Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool, Tunde Adebimpe, Rainey Qualley and Bob Stephenson

April 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Breeda Wool and Vincent Kartheiser in “Ultrasound” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Ultrasound”

Directed by Rob Schroeder

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi drama film “Ultrasound” features a group of almost all white people (with one African America and one Asian person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An unsuspecting man becomes part of a secretive scientific experiment that involves two separate pregnancies by two different women 

Culture Audience: “Ultrasound” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Generous Bosom” comic book series and people who enjoy mind-bending sci-fi mysteries.

Rainey Qualley and Chris Gartin in “Ultrasound” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Ultrasound” falters with some erratic storytelling, but the cast members’ commendable performances and the movie’s willingness to take chances make it worth watching for people interested in unconventional sci-fi movies. Ultimately, “Ultrasound” is best appreciated by people who don’t mind movies that play tricks on what this story is really about, because the movie’s plot is a mystery that takes its time to reveal its true purpose. Viewers also have to suspend some disbelief when some of the movie’s characters make decisions that are outside the norm of what most people are expected to do.

Directed by Rob Schroeder, “Ultrasound” is based on Conor Stechschulte’s “Generous Bosom” comic book series, which Stechschulte adapted into the “Ultrasound” screenplay. “Ultrasound,” which is Schroeder’s feature-film directorial debut, had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It’s a movie where a lot of strange things happen that aren’t supposed to make much sense until the final third of the movie where secrets are revealed.

“Ultrasound,” which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, opens with a scene of a bachelor in his early 40s named Glen (played by Vincent Kartheiser), whose car has broken down in a remote area at night. Glen goes to the nearest house, where a married couple named Arthur “Art” Thomas (played by Bob Stephenson) and Cyndi Thomas (played by Chelsea Lopez) live, so that he can find out where is the closest place to get auto repairs. Glen doesn’t use his phone to get that information.

Upon arriving at Art and Cyndi’s house, Glen meets them for the first time and sees that these two spouses have a very awkward, tension-filled dynamic between them. Art is very talkative and extremely friendly, while Cyndi is quiet and withdrawn. Art tells Glen that the nearest auto repair shop is currently closed. Glen tells Art that Glen has AAA insurance, but Art says that AAA will just tow Glen’s car to Pickton, a city that is 30 miles away. Pickton is also where the nearest motel is, according to Art.

Art is so open and inviting to this total stranger, he immediately offers a room in the house as a place for Glen to stay for the night. Art doesn’t just offer. He insists that Glen stay overnight at the house. Cyndi tells Glen that Art is on anti-depressant medication because he’s had depression for years. Art cheerfully admits to it and says that he always feels better after taking his medication.

And then, things get weird. Art tells Glen that the room where Glen will be staying is the same room where Cyndi sleeps, and that Glen will have to share the bed with her. Art says that is Glen’s only option if he wants to sleep over at the house. Glen is extremely uncomfortable about it, but he doesn’t want to be rude, so he doesn’t exactly get up and leave, which is what a lot of people would do. Apparently, Glen would rather not sleep in his car for the night.

Instead, Glen stays in the room with Cyndi, and they both strike up a conversation that starts off awkwardly. Slowly but surely, it becomes apparent why Glen wasn’t completely opposed to this bedroom arrangement: He’s attracted to Cyndi, who’s a little bit flirtatious with him. In continuing her pattern of divulging too much information to a stranger, Cyndi tells Glen that she’s unhappily married to Art.

Cyndi also mentions that the couple’s big age difference (Art is about 15 to 20 years older than Cyndi) is one of the reasons why their marriage has become unbearable to her. Art and Cyndi met when she was 17, and Art used to be one of her high school teachers. Art and Cyndi got married when she was 19. Cyndi tells Glen that she says she now regrets marrying Art.

Cyndi sadly mentions that if she could go back in time, she would tell her younger self before marrying Art: “What the fuck are you doing, throwing your life away, you fucking moron!” Cyndi adds, “But there’s an energy when people throw away things that people think are important … When you’re done, that energy drains out of you.”

Now that Cyndi has essentially announced to Glen that she’s a lonely and needy wife, the stage has been set for Glen to decide if he’s going to act on his attraction to Cyndi and have sex with her. This sexual one-night stand seems to be something that Art and Cyndi are expecting will happen. At first, Glen thinks that Art and Cyndi are a swinger couple, and it’s a setup so that Art can watch Glen have sex with Cyndi. When he asks Cyndi about it, she denies that Art will be watching whatever happens between her and Glen.

Cyndi and Glen end up having sex, but it’s not shown in the movie. The next time that viewers see Glen, he’s at his home (where he lives alone), and his car has long since been repaired. He found out that the car broke down because it had flat tires that were punctured by what objects that appeared to be nails. And then something unexpected happens to Glen: He gets an unannounced visit from Art.

Glen is so caught off-guard by seeing Art, he refuses to let Art in the house. Glen is suspicious because he doesn’t know how Art got his home address. Art is vague and won’t say how he found out where Glen lives, but Art insists on coming into the house because he tells Glen that he has something important to show Glen. Eventually, Glen lets Art into his home because he can see that Art won’t go away until Art gets what he wants from this unwelcome visit.

Inside the house, Art shows Glen a video on Art’s phone of a baby ultrasound. Art tells Glen that Cyndi is pregnant, and that this ultrasound is of the baby growing inside of Cyndi. And then, Art drops a bombshell: He says that Glen is the father of this baby. At first Glen denies it, but Art says that Glen is the only person who could be the father because Glen is the only man who had sex with Cyndi in the time period where the baby was conceived. Art says that he and Cyndi are willing to do DNA tests to prove Glen’s paternity.

After Glen gets the news that he’s going to be a father, he reconnects with Cyndi, who seems very happy about the pregnancy. Glen tells Cyndi that he wants to be involved with raising this child, even though Glen still feels mistrust and resentment (mostly toward Art) because Glen thinks he was “tricked” into getting Cyndi pregnant. He should’ve thought of that before he had unprotected sex with a stranger.

Meanwhile, another pregnancy issue is shown in “Ultrasound.” Katie (played by Rainey Qualley) is the pregnant, younger mistress of a married politician named Alex Harris (played by Chris Gartin), who is currently up for re-election for an unnamed political office. Katie and Alex’s affair and the pregnancy are both secrets.

Alex has paid for Katie to move to the city where he lives, but he’s been mostly ignoring her. Alex insists that Katie not venture out much from the apartment that he’s renting for her. This semi-confinement is starting to make Katie feel restless and disrespected. “Ultrasound” has a series of phone calls and encounters between Katie and Alex to show what happens in their relationship.

The rest of “Ultrasound” has a lot of spoiler information, but it’s enough to say that Glen and Cyndi end up in a mysterious scientific research lab, where they are forced to undergo experiments and interrogations. Glen is also injured and has to use a wheelchair. The leader of this “research study” is a determined scientist named Dr. Conners (played by Tunde Adebimpe), who is adamant that all of his subordinates follow his rules.

In this “research study,” the two female subordinates who work the most with Dr. Conners are named Shannon (played by Breeda Wool) and Julie (played by Porter Duong), who have very different approaches to their job. Julie is very obedient and never questions what Dr. Conners has to say. Shannon, who does a lot of the research interviews of Glen and Chelsea, has her doubts about the ethics of this “research study,” and she sometimes openly defies Dr. Conners’ orders.

“Ultrasound” takes viewers down a proverbial rabbit hole, where the story has some twists and turns—some of which are more unpredictable than others. Schroeder’s direction maintains a tense level of viewer anticipation and curiosity to see what will happen next. However, enough bizarre things happen where confused viewers of “Ultrasound” might not want to stick around until the end of the movie to find out what it all means.

All of the cast members are convincing in their performances, but Kartheiser and Wool stand out because their characters are the ones who say and do the things that are the most interesting. Glen and Shannon have aspects of their personalities that show they’re independent-minded and are willing to ask questions if things around them start to look suspicious. The ending of “Ultrasound” is a bit jumbled and messy, but it least answers a lot of questions about what these characters have experienced and what might happen to them next.

Magnet Releasing released “Ultrasound” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 11, 2022.

Review: ‘She Dies Tomorrow,’ starring Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim and Josh Lucas

July 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kate Lyn Sheil in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“She Dies Tomorrow” 

Directed by Amy Seimetz

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow” features a predominantly white cast (with one Asian person, one black person and one Latino person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman spreads her fear of dying to the people closest to her.

Culture Audience: “She Dies Tomorrow” will appeal primarily to people who have a high tolerance of incoherent movies that have vague endings.

Jane Adams and Josh Lucas in “She Dies Tomorrow” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

When a filmmaker makes a weird movie for the sake of being “unique” or “edgy,” what’s sometimes left out of the equation is ” interesting.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being weird, but when you create a story that is extremely boring, then people will feel like they wasted their time paying attention. Unfortunately, that is the end result of writer/director Amy Seimetz’s horrifically self-indulgent and mind-numbingly dull psychological drama “She Dies Tomorrow.” The movie is only 84 minutes long, but it feels like longer.

Don’t be fooled by the marketing for this movie. “She Dies Tomorrow” is definitely not a horror film. Instead, it’s a mash-up of scenes showing a bunch of unhappy people in Los Angeles who keep predicting that they’re going to die tomorrow. There are some multi-colored (usually red, blue and green) strobe-light effects that fill the screen every time this feeling of impending doom overtakes each person.

But this spooky, almost hallucinogenic cinematography is not a sign that there’s some outside force from outer space or an evil spirit causing this morbid gloom and doom. In fact, there isn’t much of an explanation for anything that goes on in this story. In a nutshell: The movie is about people who become convinced that they’re going to “die tomorrow.” When they say this negative and morbid thought out loud to other people, that thought spreads to those other people like a virus.

It’s shown in the beginning of the film that the person who seems to have started the spread of this mental virus is a woman named Amy (played by Kate Lyn Sheil), who lives alone in her house in Los Angeles. Amy is depressed about something, so she gets drunk, and is overwhelmed with the feeling that she’s going to die tomorrow.

There are way too many shots of Amy stumbling around in a sequined dress and doing things like stroking the panels on her hardwood floors and looking at random things on her laptop computer. One of the things she looks at online is a set of leather jackets for sale. And she also inexplicably goes in her backyard to set some paper on fire. (It’s never revealed what was on the paper and why she wanted to burn it.)

Amy’s middle-aged friend Jane (played by Jane Adams) comes over and sees Amy in this pathetic state. Amy is so drunk that she says to Jane, “I wonder if I could be made into a leather jacket.” And then she says the fateful words to Jane: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

Jane replies that Amy will definitely die if Amy continues to relapse. Amy then repeats her macabre prediction: “I’m going to die tomorrow.” Jane tells Amy that she won’t, but Amy insists that she will. They go back and forth with this argument for a minute or two.

After a few more random and nonsensical scenes that include Amy waking up as if she just had a nightmare, Jane is shown walking zombie-like into a party at the house of her brother Jason (played by Chris Messina) and Jason’s wife Susan (played by Katie Aselton). It’s a small, low-key gathering to celebrate Susan’s birthday.

The only other guests there are a younger couple named Brian (played by Tunde Adebimpe) and Tilly (played by Jennifer Kim), who have very different demeanors at the party. Tilly makes an effort to be talkative and outgoing, while Brian is mostly silent and looks uncomfortable.

Jane’s sudden arrival surprises the people at the party, because she had apparently told Jason and Susan that she wasn’t going to attend. Not only has Jane somewhat crashed the party, but she’s acting spaced-out and melancholy, which ruins the party’s previously upbeat atmosphere. Almost everyone’s been drinking alcohol at the party, where Jane utters the fateful words: “I’m going to die tomorrow.”

There really isn’t much left to the story, except that Jane ends up in a doctor’s office, where the doctor (played by Josh Lucas) immediately thinks that something is psychologically wrong with Jane. Meanwhile, this “mental virus” spreads to Jason and Susan, who traumatize their teenage daughter Madison (played by Madison Calderon) when they both tell her that they’re going to die tomorrow.

There are also nonlinear flashback scenes of Amy and her relationship with a guy around her age named Craig (played by Kentucker Audley), who apparently started as someone who might have been looking to rent a room, because in one of the flashbacks, Amy gives Craig a tour of the house, as if he’s a potential renter. But somehow Amy and Craig ended up becoming lovers—there are no sex scenes in the movie, but it’s shown they had an intimate relationship.

However, this relationship didn’t last. Amy and Craig broke up, and Craig took the breakup very badly. The beginning of the film shows him having a meltdown in the living room where he shouts, “It’s over! … There’s no tomorrow!” And then there’s a scene later in the film of Craig lying dead on a house floor with a gun nearby. It’s left up to viewers to interpret what happened to Craig.

There’s also a bizarre cameo scene in a swimming pool of a woman named Skye (played by Michelle Rodriguez) and a woman named Erin (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley), where Skye says, “Hi, I’m Skye. I’m dying.” Erin replies, “I’m Erin. I’m dying too.” And then the swimming pool starts to become filled with blood. Erin says, “I think I’m on my period.” Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

In the production notes for “She Dies Tomorrow,” writer/director Seimetz explains what inspired the movie: “I was dealing with my own personal anxiety and found I was spreading my panic to other people by talking about it perhaps too excessively—while simultaneously watching a ton of news and watching mass anxiety spreading on the right and left politically. All this while remembering losing my father and many friends, that we all die at some point. We don’t know what to do but keep living, realizing the absurdity and tragedy that ‘with life comes death.’”

If the purpose of “She Dies Tomorrow” is to make viewers feel like they’re stuck watching miserable people who want their lives to end, while you can’t wait for this rambling and messy movie to end, then it succeeds in that goal.

Neon released “She Dies Tomorrow” in select U.S. cinemas on July 31, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is August 7, 2020.

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