People from all walks of life deal with mental illness. Despite the fact that it’s so prevalent, it’s still so widely misunderstood. You can’t just “Snap out of it” or “Pull up your bootstraps” to suddenly cure the darkness that clouds the mind. The new drama from director Vincent Sabella, Elizabeth Blue, follows its main character and her battle with schizophrenia. Sabella vividly captures the horrors of mental illness in a haunting and effective manner, allowing the film to overcome its slow pacing and insulated plot.
Elizabeth (Anna Schafer) has just been released from a mental health institution and is getting ready to reestablish her life on the outside with her fiancé Grant (Ryan Vincent). There’s an apprehension to Elizabeth, as if the ground she walks on is wobbly and unstable. Grant is a kind and understanding partner, willing to offer support and guidance to his fiancé and even accompanies her to appointments with her psychiatrist Dr. Bowman (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Even things are going well, there’s still that darkness that haunts Elizabeth, often manifesting itself at night in nightmarish visions of doubt and self-loathing. And a surprise visit from her mother (Kathleen Quinlan) doesn’t help the young woman’s tenuous grip on reality. Elizabeth isn’t sure if she’ll be able to keep herself together as she prepares for her big walk down the aisle.
Vincent Sabella and co-writer Alfred D. Huffington do an excellent job in creating a sense of unease with their main character. That sense of unease is amplified immensely when Elizabeth finds herself in the throes of an episode, and Sabella corners Anna Schafer in confined quarters while her darkest thoughts are manifested as a man pressuring her to take her own life. These scenes are incredibly intense, an inventive and horrifying way to visually convey the horrors of mental illness without ever dabbling in exploitative means. And Anna Schafer delivers a powerful performance as someone struggling to maintain their grip on reality as their mind is actively working against her efforts.
And yet there’s always a feeling that something is off in Elizabeth Blue. Some aspects are almost too idyllic and leave the audience asking certain questions that only grow more and more as the film progresses. These questions somewhat dilute a big reveal at the end of the film. That reveal would’ve been much more effective had Elizabeth Blue been able to concern itself with a little bit more than just a repetitive cycle of treatment and an ensuing episode. The plotting of the film is rather deliberate and slow in many moments that are seemingly intended to be the quiet before the storm, but it’s too quiet and since it’s not that engaging it allows the viewer’s mind to wander and perhaps get a bit ahead of the story.
Elizabeth Blue is a movie with its heart and mind in the right place even if its execution doesn’t always meet its intentions. This is a well-acted movie that has nothing but empathy for the psychological torment of its main character, and cinematically conveys that pain with a creative visual style. Sometimes the film slows down a bit too much and that does hurt it later in the story when it should be ramping up, but for the most part Elizabeth Blue is an effective drama that establishes Vincent Sabella as an emerging voice in independent cinema.