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Netflix continues to build upon its growing catalog of original content, proving that they are up to task in providing some worthwhile films, even if a few feel a little experimental. Last year’s I am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House was a genuine surprise, but split audiences, as will Clinical, a thriller that might have some invested to its story, but for most will be a tepid experience.
Dr. Jane Mathis (Vinessa Shaw) is a successful psychiatrist working at a large institution who has a terrifying incident with Nora (India Eisley), a patient who is not responding to her therapy, leaving her wounded and traumatized. It takes two years before she feels ready to try again with post-traumatic victims, feeling better under the care of her own therapist, Terry (William Atherton). Almost as soon as she becomes receptive to helping again, she gets a call from a man named Alex (Kevin Rahm), who tells her he’s been in an accident and needs someone to talk to.
Reluctantly, she accepts, and Alex arrives, a facially disfigured man with great internal pain who is desperate for help, but skeptical of the practice, having experience that has failed before. He wants drugs to let him be free of his feelings, but she presses for conversation first, to which he agrees. As their professional relationship progresses, Jane begins to experience visions and encounters of Nora, as we learn about their own backstory. In time, a connection is formed and Jane is pulled into an absolute nightmare.
Directed (and co-written) by Alistair Legrand, Clinical is a surprisingly accurate description of the film itself, one that understands the genre to an exacting degree and delivers a fairly rigid experience that has several good moments amid the familiarity. Legrand employs a laundry list of filmmaking techniques that builds tension and jump scares, mostly to good effect while spiraling around a kind of mystery that is undeniably engaging, even if it is a little manipulative. From his excessive use of Dutch angles and trope-ish musical queues to the paint-by-the numbers “haunting” that is, by 2017, nearly comical, there are too many obvious markers here that drain it of creativity, even if there are some good performances that help to lift it above average.
That begins with the dynamic between Shaw and Rahm, who throughout create a smart and engaging face-to-face, as much of the story centers on their couch sessions. These mostly authentic interactions are segues to Alex’s gruesome accident, shown in mostly black & white flashbacks, as he confronts an act of heroism that also inspires horrific bouts of guilt. Both Shaw and Rahm are very good and despite some logical lapses in the script, manage to maintain a palpable sense of tension.
Where the film loses that though is the overly-obvious horror elements with Eisley, a recurring number of dream sequences that feature graphic violence and lose their punch and credibility as the film descends further and further into cliché, each one a falsehood that never fails to convince us. By the time it reaches its third act, we’ve gotten a fair dose of commentary on the confrontation therapy technique and a climax that is as old school as they come, which, depending on one’s taste for things, will be welcome fun or just plain dull.
Clinical starts as a much better film than it eventually becomes, promising a bit more psychological thrills than it delivers. While it’s levied by some solid performances, the rest of the film is a standard playlist that certainly adheres well to the formula, but isn’t going to be all that memorable. Kudos to Shaw and Rahm for doing what they do with the material, but Clinical is sterile, a thriller that could have been smarter.
Movie description: Clinical is a 2017 thriller about a psychiatrist who tries to put her life back together after a violent attack, only help someone with his own terrifying history.
Director(s): Alistair Legrand
Actor(s): Vinessa Shaw, Kevin Rahm, India Eisley