It's never too late to learn to love yourself. Psychological thriller Fuzzy Head, written and directed by Wendy McColm, is incredibly thought-provoking, filled with trippy, vibrant visuals and a striking voice on healing mental health and intergenerational trauma. The trip down memory lane format is difficult to parse through initially but stabilizes into an intriguing narrative.
The film follows Marla (McColm), a sleep-deprived young woman on the run from a past that haunts her. Terrified she may be behind her mother’s (Alicia Witt) gruesome death. Unable to recall if she killed her, Marla refuses to sleep. As time passes, the lines between reality and illusion blur, forcing Marla to decide to rest or keep suffering the effects of her guilt, shame, and anxiety. As the pressure to unwind the tangled knot of what really happened to her mother mounts, Marla is pushed to look closely at her past, examining her tumultuous childhood and selfhood to break the cycle of trauma and move on.
Marla’s refusal to sleep serves as a brilliant metaphor for a deep-rooted lack of self-care and love. A combination of her mentally ill mother and the emotional highs and lows of the codependent relationship Marla has with her has led to Marla’s belief that she is, at her core, unlovable. To undo the cycle, she is made to look at the people surrounding her and wish to take care of her. Everyone from strangers, like maids and waitresses, to her sister Marian (Numa Perrier) and her best friend (Tolliver). To truly make peace with herself and find the self-worth missing all her life, Marla must face both her mother and her younger self (Cassidy Butler). She learns that despite being unable to save her mother, she can still save herself in the end.
Though you would never know it, Fuzzy Head is McColm’s feature-length directorial debut. The directorial choices throughout the film are clear and impactful, hitting assertively. Everything from the cinematography team's camera angles to how Marla and her blonde-wig bedecked inner therapist are positioned opposite one another radiates a clear sense of vision from the director’s seat. We see Marla’s world exactly as McColm wants us to: it is strange and scary one moment, then docile and soft the next. Most striking is a scene where Marla and Marion confront us dead in the eye and deliver an unforgettable line about their mother, “a woman who was never heard in her pain.” McColm forces the audience to contend with that notion, pushing us to question whose pain we might ignore and whether our own cycles might be broken.
Witt delivers a remarkable performance as Marla’s often abusive mother, effectively walking the line between sympathetic and antagonistic. The chemistry between Witt and McColm speaks true to the difficult and strenuous relationships between mothers and daughters. The depiction of this dynamic is nuanced and reads as complex and thoughtful.
The film falters slightly in some of its more extraneous moments. When Marla visits a performance club and encounters The Whistler (Rain Phoenix), while striking and evocative, it’s a strange musical sequence that doesn’t serve much purpose in the larger scheme of things. However, that is one of the only moments during which the writing falters. For all its fever dream-esque writing, the narrative makes sense and delivers a character arc that resonates deeply.
Fuzzy Head is less of a traditional film in how its story unfolds but rather a topsy-turvy journey through a young woman’s psyche. Marla’s anxiety and shame keep us on edge while the uncertainty of her reality and its punchy visuals entertain us. With its excellent cast and impeccable direction, McColm delivers a film worth remembering.