Sarah Kirk calls To the Moon an anxiety-inducing, thought-provoking, and discomforting story with faultless acting.
TO THE MOON (2021) is an independent psychological thriller written and directed by Scott Friend. Family reunions don’t always go as planned, at least not for Dennis (Friend) and Roger (Will Brill), two estranged brothers. The film presents intense, soul-searching questions and dialogue through capable acting. The unsettling theme of the film is brought about by Dan Debrey’s masterful cinematography and together produce an uncomfortable and distressing film. Friend states, “I wanted to explore the themes of love, addiction, and enabling in the context of family. This film, in all of its offbeat and dark humor, is very close to my heart, and I hope it resonates with audiences as well as entertains.” The film successfully captures dark topics such as substance abuse, relationship conflicts, and complicated familial ties.
Dennis and Mia (Madeline Morgenweck) head to a secluded cottage in the woods, away from the city, to plan their future and reconnect as a couple. Their weekend of healing is disrupted by Roger’s abrupt appearance and his newfound spiritualistic philosophic personality. Following Roger’s arrival, Dennis’s reality becomes distorted, and his sanity slowly slips away. Awkward and tense conversations ensue between Dennis and Roger about family, current jobs, and whether Dennis is happy or not in his life. Roger comes with openness and curiosity but pokes and prods at sensitive boundaries of the couple and, at times, crosses the line. Mia, however, is committed to making Roger feel comfortable as their guest.
As Roger attempts to reconnect with Dennis and learn about Mia, conversations circle the couple's fertility issues, whether they are happy, and their deep-rooted insecurities, regrets, and ambitions. The longer Roger stays, the more intrusive his questions become. Meanwhile, Roger consistently gives Dennis and Mia berries to eat and berry juice to consume in brotherly camaraderie and familial love. Dennis’s mental state begins to dwindle after experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations. He questions everything and everyone around him, leading to deteriorating communication, confusion, and anxiety infused into every interaction Dennis has.
Debrey creates disorienting, comprehensible, and hypnotizing cinematography. The opening credits are presented with a noticeable pink, swirly font, resembling Rosemary’s Baby (1968) opening credits scene. I'm not sure whether it was a nod to the horror classic, but it was unique nonetheless. The opening shots contain beautiful serene scenery of woods, a vast lake, and solitude. The peacefulness and comforting images set up the calm environment Dennis and Mia hope to experience. It’s not long before Roger disturbs the peace. Debrey also hones in on an orange triangular crystal, a Peach Moon Stone that’s integral to Mia's identity and becomes essential later on in the film. When they speak or react, each character is shown in the frame by themselves, for the most part. It elicits a disconnect between the characters. The most effective element was creating a blurry and disorienting effect whenever Dennis has a hallucination, like when he sees Roger in a wig or running through the woods. It's entirely disconcerting.
Brill, Friend, and Morganweck were intense and faultless in their performances. Brill portrays Roger brilliantly. After a long estrangement, Roger supposedly comes in peace with his newfound spirituality, ready to connect again. At times, I didn’t know whether to feel bad for Roger, scared, or upset with him. His personality and tones frequently change, confusing the audience about his intentions. Roger is the type of character who doesn’t know where boundaries lie, making scenes uncomfortable. Brill delivers a surprisingly accomplished performance playing an ambiguous character. Roger's intuitive presence comes off as open and emotional.
Characters and dialogue are the focal points of each scene. The story and psychological horror aspects are driven by discourse that is intense, full of pent-up anger and emotional reactivity. As the film is mainly dialogue-centered, many opportunities to touch upon heavy themes are present. Explored themes include emotional intimacy, relationship conflict, addiction, spirituality, fertility, and identity crisis. Emotional walls are torn down to reveal uncomfortable truths. The themes and performances contributed to an overall unease and nervousness. It’s like walking on eggshells, waiting for someone to blow up with emotion.
The narrative slowly builds until Dennis reaches a point of psychological distress. We’re left to question whether there is something more sinister at work with each scene. It’s thought-provoking, and I was curious from beginning to end. It’s a nightmare with deviations from normalcy. TO THE MOON captures a dissection of family trauma with skilled acting, cinematography, and explored themes.