By: Brendan Graham
Human brains are complex and unpredictable, especially when it comes to our memories. We can remember vivid details about an event or remember them incorrectly. In more distressing cases, we sometimes can’t remember something at all, or we remember versions of an event that someone else has manipulated to their own gain (otherwise known as gaslighting). When your memory or lack thereof is used against you, the psychological damage is immense. Imagine an experiment where the use of frequencies and tones could be used to convince someone that they couldn’t walk, or that they were pregnant when they weren't (or vice versa). Imagine using that knowledge for financial or political gain, or even as a weapon. Can’t imagine it? ULTRASOUND will do that for you.
The movie begins with a young man named Glen (Vincent Kartheiser) stuck in the rain with a broken-down vehicle. It appears that he has had some sort of accident, potentially hitting his head or just being incredibly rattled. After stumbling through the rainstorm, he arrives at a nearby house and frantically knocks on the door. There he meets an interesting couple - Art (Bob Stephenson) and Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez) - who are uncomfortably open and blunt about how they met. Art was a high school teacher who found out his student, Cyndi, had a crush on him. Odd behaviors begin, and there seems to be a lack of chemistry between Art and Cyndi, that is blamed on Art’s depression.
With no tow trucks available at this time of night, Art suggests that Glen should sleep in the same bed with his wife, which makes Glen even more uncomfortable. We suddenly go from the bedroom to a pool, where we are introduced to another character named Katie (Rainey Qualley), who seems to not notice her own pregnant stomach when complaining about clothes not fitting. Then it's back to Glen, after he wakes up the next morning to an empty house, and decides to wander home. At his apartment, he is woken up early one morning to Art at his front door with some troubling news about Cyndi. Something doesn’t feel right to Glen, especially with Cyndi sending a text message to get rid of Art, so she could come to talk to him. Meanwhile, at a scientific research facility, a researcher and therapist named Shannon (Breeda Wool) is memorizing the conversation between Glen and Cyndi for a role-play scenario for further testing. But for what purpose? This memory manipulating science fiction story will take you on quite a journey to find out.
ULTRASOUND pulls your interest immediately, and holds onto it quite well throughout its runtime. The story is intriguing, it’s paced well, and the twists are well calculated. It’s important for a sci-fi film to feel fantastical yet plausible, a vision of what’s to come (or hopefully not in this case), and ULTRASOUND balances that out quite well. The sound design succeeds in making us uncomfortable, as we’re hearing the same tones and frequencies, even before we know what they mean. It's embedded deep into the sound design for the film, and I had a hard time figuring out if I was actively hearing some tones in the movie or if my own brain was making me think I was.
In that way, we are being manipulated along with the characters, and I really appreciated that level of effort from the filmmakers. The score of the film works well, giving off a "lo-fi beats to have your memories altered to" vibe that fits with the look and tone of the film. Our main characters fit well together, are believable, and add to our intrigue as the story progresses. Lopez and Wool especially delivered great performances. I also appreciated the twists and turns the plot took, as I am usually someone who can guess where a movie is going and ULTRASOUND still managed to surprise me. What’s real? What’s manipulation? It was quite a ride to find out. It's particularly impressive when you remember that this is a feature film debut from director Rob Schroeder.
Where ULTRASOUND struggled for me, was the story becoming too busy or too bloated. We were introduced to many characters who didn’t add a lot of value to the story, and some memory sequences that didn’t feel very convincing. The narrative arc had so many stories it was trying to juggle that it became hard to follow some elements, and truly invest in all of the characters. Trying to keep tabs on when and where things were happening and with whom became a bit of a headache, at times.
ULTRASOUND is a strong genre effort that showcases a plausible and terrifying way to weaponize our memories and our understanding of events to be used against our will. Our memories are a fragile thing, and the film presents that in a way that also makes the audience feel just as uneasy and manipulated. If you’re a fan of sci-fi or you enjoy mind-bending twists and turns, absolutely give ULTRASOUND a shot.
ULTRASOUND is now playing in limited theaters and is also available on Video On Demand services.