Adventures in Streaming: Clinical

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Clinical offered to show us a psychiatrist (Jane) whose patient(s) may or may not be trying to kill her.

Jane is returning to her practice after having been attacked by a former patient (Nora) who was upset about Jane’s advice. As the story progresses, we see Jane experiencing some sleep paralysis wherein she remembers all too vividly the incident with Nora; her trouble dealing with the event causes her own therapist to question the wisdom of Jane’s continuing her practice, especially after she starts counseling a man (Alex) whose behaviour toward her is decidedly odd even before she agrees to take him as a patient.

The atmosphere is fairly creepy and consistent; the acting isn’t bad. …

The story itself falls down pretty badly, however, and the delivery is a bit clunky.

Alex has facial disfigurement that he explains in what should have been a poignant and emotionally gripping moment, but it’s presented in such a low-key manner, with all the words of a poignant, gripping moment but without any corresponding feeling. Not only does this make it a little hard to care about Alex – whose feelings he describes as if by rote – but it makes it a pretty glaring clue: if we can’t really invest in his sob-story, then we instantly start to suspect him.

Jane experiences sleep paralysis and PTSD, but the film illustrates these events and feelings in a sort of visual shorthand, as though the director has assumed the audience knows not just what those things are but also exactly what they’re like. If the purpose is to invite the viewer to feel as confused as Jane, I suppose that maybe it achieved that a little bit, but again, the lack of real engagement or sympathy with her experiences just shines a light on them as a clue.

The story itself is pedestrian: woman questions her sanity, woman experiences events that could easily be interpreted in two different (fairly obvious) ways, woman ignores the advice of her therapist, friends, and boyfriend, and is betrayed by literally the only person presented who could or would betray her, the attacker employs mental trickery to fool her – without fooling any of the viewers, particularly, since the ham-handed treatment of Jane’s sleep paralysis, memories, and dreams points almost directly to someone drugging and manipulating her. Even during some of the “big reveals”, the revelations aren’t that surprising: it looks like she did it herself! … but it’s the middle of the film, so it can’t be! … please try to sustain your wish to know what’s going on a little longer! Big surprise: Alex – with his disfigured and mostly concealed face under which he could be anyone at all – isn’t who he says he is! Nora’s no longer in the treatment center! – which of course makes perfect sense, since we’ve seen her in Jane’s “visions” that are delivered so stereotypically and so banally that it might as well have someone walking across with a big sign that says “this isn’t a vision but is in fact really happening, but Jane doesn’t know because she’s insaaaaaane” … followed by a second person with a slightly smaller sign that says “… or is she?” and then a third person with a little placard that says “dun-dun-dunnnnn”.

The body count is pretty pointless, since we don’t really get a chance to care about any of the characters who get killed. Jane doesn’t really emote about the deaths, almost acting as though it’s a startling inconvenience to have a body lying in front of her rather than something that’s shocking, devastating, or unusual. She seems to care … but it just doesn’t matter enough to her for us to care.

We do see the original attack by Nora, but we learn next to nothing about why she did what she did or why she was upset; very much like the initial scene in The Sixth Sense, the patient has broken into the doctor’s space, attacked the doctor, and then attempted suicide. Unlike The Sixth Sense, though, where the entire film is the explanation for the patient’s actions, we just don’t see a compelling build of reasons why Nora would do what she did, and without that, the reveal is a little anticlimactic, especially given the huge clues that all pointed to the bad guy before we even knew what he was responsible for.

Basically, it’s visually not uninteresting, the acting is acceptable, but the mystery is never much of a mystery, the sleuthing is never very sleuth-y, the tropes are predictable, the body count isn’t particularly shocking or meaningful, the main character’s empowerment is done in possibly the most lackluster way possible, and the ending has no denouement. We’re glad she’s alive, I guess?

Overall, not the worst way to spend a couple of hours, but not the best either.


4 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming: Residue (2015)

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *
* now with spoilers *

Residue (2015) is a UK miniseries originally slated as a pilot of sorts for a longer series; unfortunately Netflix (nor anybody else) picked up the series, which caused a lot of confusion among the viewers as to the meaning and plot of the miniseries. As a miniseries, Residue poses more questions at the end than at the beginning, and literally answers none of them; we don’t know what happens to the main characters, we don’t understand what was happening in the quarantine zone, we don’t know who the “bad guys” really are, and we don’t see a path from where the story ends to any kind of resolution. This in turn causes the action to feel sluggish – since it leads to a non-ending – which casts a negative light on the acting, because they’re focusing on actions more than on character development.

But this assessment, although understandable, is unfair. When viewed with the knowledge that it was meant to lead into a fully-fleshed-out thriller-mystery, and that the cliffhangers were meant to be addressed completely in the subsequent series, Residue is in fact a really intriguing pilot; it presents interesting characters, a Big-Bad that may or may not include a supernatural component, and a creepy phenomenon that kills seemingly randomly and by unexplained means. The characters are well-placed within the action, their motivations are clear, and their basic … well … character is established (who’s good, who’s bad, etc.). The romantic relationship between the two main characters is realistic – neither unbelievably gushy or jaded or tense; they’re just two people who struggle to find time for one another with their time-sucking jobs.

Some of the criticism revolves around the secondary characters – the ones who fall victim to the creepy phenomenon – not being well-explored, or their deaths adequately explained. Their demise feels abrupt and occasionally choppy … unless you realize these images are overtures to later explanations and explorations that the series was going to offer. In that light, these people – whose faces we remember vividly but whose time in the story is so brief – provide a mystery that we want very much to solve.

It does have the trope that, in fact, the characters’ own government is either the Big-Bad or very well aware of the Big-Bad and doing nothing about it … but there’s a great deal of ambiguity about just where the conspiracy begins and ends, and which of the characters may or may not be fully on board with it. A secretive, uncaring government is almost a cliché plot device at this point, but on the other hand, a quarantine-zone situation would have to involve government somehow, so I don’t know how the trope would be avoided in this case.

Ultimately, Residue as a pilot gives just the sort of unresolved mystery and compelling characterizations that would make me want to go ahead and watch the series … but it was (very unfortunately, I think) not allowed to tell its full story. So we end up with a well-done half of something – not the best way to end a three-episode jaunt, but also not the fault of the show, which I believe made a very good start with a solid and engaging premise.

7 out of 10