Film Review – Ultrasonic
I don’t know what it is about me, but I have a lot of friends who are what one could call “conspiracy theory nuts.” (Although they might not appreciate the “nuts” part.) I’m originally from Southern Oregon, which has a lot of right-wing survivalists and a lot of left-wing hippies—each side with its own arcane ideas about the world’s leadership. I grew up with this stuff, and while I don’t generally buy it myself, I’m not going to rain on anyone’s parade and tell him or her I think they are full of crap. (Except for my friend Scott, who knows that if he talks about the Zapruder film one more time, I’m gonna beat the stuffing out of him. I’m a good friend, but I’m not a freaking saint.) So, when the opportunity to review Ultrasonic, a film with conspiracy theory undertones, came around, my interest was naturally piqued.
Ultrasonic tells the story of musician/husband/piano teacher Simon (Silas Gordon Brigham). He’s just living his life, trying to get by—while also attempting to move up. He needs to get two thousand dollars together for his share of his band’s new record, just when he finds out his wife is pregnant, and he’s lost one of his teaching gigs. Things are a little overwhelming for him, but he’s a hard worker and a good guy. As he deals with the changes coming to his life, he begins to hear a constant, strange noise—the note B—that no one else seems to hear. Not sure if it is real or psychological, he goes to a hearing specialist who lets him know that, while he might be experiencing some hearing loss in the mid ranges, his ability to hear sounds in the lower and upper ranges is off the charts. The doctor has no idea regarding the nature of the sounds, though, and sends Simon off to figure things out on his own.
Simon seeks the counsel of his brother-in-law, Jonas (Sam Repshas), who sees government conspiracies behind every bush. Jonas goes online to research strange auditory phenomenon, and comes across a man who introduces him to the idea of psychotropic acoustics: the use of sound to control human behavior. However, when the man makes claims about being an alien abductee, Jonas shuts him down; even he is not that crazy. While Simon and Jonas work together to discover the origin of the sound, Simon’s wife Ruth (Cate Buscher) worries that he will go off the deep end after hanging out with Jonas so much.
Ultrasonic is a D.D. indie film directed by Rohit Colin Rao, and it’s good, but rough. On the good side, it’s got a great story and stylish visuals. It’s black and white—with small pops of color—and great use is made of shapes and patterns within the frame. Whatever budget the filmmakers had, they utilized well, but the maker or breaker of small-budget films is usually the story. The script here could have used a few more passes to tighten it and improve the dialogue, but it’s pretty interesting, and most of the characters are just rounded enough to draw us into their world. With a lot of low-budget films, I end up wanting to like them more than I actually do, but I enjoyed this one.
But, like I said, it’s rough. The editing can be a little rocky, and the score can be pretty annoying. The same theme is used repeatedly in the first third of the movie, and its repetitiveness just about drove me batshit. I had to stop the screener I was watching to go complain to my husband that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to continue on with the movie. Luckily for me, it stopped about thirty minutes in. Let me tell you, psychotropic acoustics are real, and this movie proves it. (I don’t want to sound petty, but this was more than just a little irritating.)
The other big issue for me was the portrayal of women (woman) in the film. Simon’s wife Ruth is one-dimensional, and just kind of bitchy. I’m not sure if this was a limitation of the actress or the script, but she did nothing but smack talk Jonas, behave unsympathetically to Simon, or subtly manipulate him into doing what she wanted. Now, I’m not saying there are not people like that, but this character’s flatness made it difficult for me to buy into the story. A lot of care was taken to get the most from every dime here, but I was unable to have any sympathy for Ruth, which made me question why Simon would work so hard to appease her. But, there’s enough here to make this movie watchable, and I think it’s good enough for me to recommend it.
Final Grade: B-
Ultrasonic plays at the Grand Illusion Cinema June 1 – 7 at 7: 00pm.