Paint It Black (2016)
Written by Ed Dougherty and Amber Tamblyn
Directed by Amber Tamblyn
Set in the late 1980s, Paint It Black follows the story of Josie (Alia Shawkat) in the wake of her boyfriend’s unexpected suicide. These traumatic events put her at odds with his mother, Meredith, who believes Josie is responsible for what happened. The two women clash in an increasingly dark and strange series of encounters. Josie becomes more dependent on self-medication to cope which makes her increasingly vulnerable to Meredith’s manipulations.
First-time feature director Amber Tamblyn makes it very clear throughout Paint It Black that this is not a film about discovering why a loved one killed themselves. Instead, this is a meditation on grief and anguish, an examination of how people collapse or move on after suicide. Instead of opting for melodrama, Tamblyn constructs an incredibly impressionistic and intense story. The visuals, like the title, are smeared in shadow and occasionally lit by harsh neon. The days roll by in a haze of incomprehensibility. We often see the events in point of view shots of Josie or Meredith in the most intense scenes.
There is a brilliant shot of the motel room where the deceased took his own life. Instead of characters emoting or talking about this place, we get a 360-degree shot where the image informs the viewer. We see signs of the motel staff’s attempt to clean the remnants from the room, faint pink stains on the wall and spackle used to cover the bullet hole, and the mattress propped up against the closet door, pink stains adorning it. Tamblyn understands the power of film to communicate emotion and information using only visual language. Josie’s internal pain is shown as cutaways to a manifestation of what she would do if behavior and etiquette were not factors.
Watching Paint It Black, you might expect a final violent confrontation between Josie and Meredith, but their conflict and relationship is resolved in an incredibly surprising and satisfying way. There is a sense of possession in both women, clinging to what little remains of their loved one, to the point they want to take what the other has. This is not a film about a plot with beats, but a character study. There is not a final act to reach but rather a character finding some sense of closure in the midst of nearly unbearable pain.