Ingrid Goes West (2017)
Written by David Branson Smith & Matt Spicer
Directed by Matt Spicer
Ingrid Thorburn is a mentally unstable woman who seems to have little human contact outside of online social media, notably Instagram. She is released from a mental health facility and returns to her recently deceased mother’s home, still in grief about that loss and deep into her ongoing psychological issues. That is when she comes across an article on Taylor Sloane, a new social media tastemaker. Taylor fills her Instagram with accounts of the food she eats, the clothes she wears, and the activities she and her husband get up to living in Venice Beach. Ingrid decides that Venice Beach is where she needs to be and cashes out her inheritance to go there with the chance of running across Taylor. Eventually, this chance meeting occurs and Ingrid’s problems only compound from there.
I didn’t go into Ingrid Goes West with genuinely high expectations. This is mainly due to my lukewarm take on actress Aubrey Plaza. I know she seems to have hurtled to a certain level of stardom after making her big debut in Parks & Recreation, but I just have never bought into her particular type. Plaza seems to only play one kind of character (bitchy, snarky, aloof, cold, distant) and that has really grated on me. I can understand when a character actor gets connected with a type, but producers seem to want to cast Plaza with top billing. This leads me to want to see her show some range in acting choices. Thankfully, Ingrid Goes West is just such a showcase. I have never seen Plaza deliver a performance like this. Yes, there is a little bit of the manic low lying craziness from some other performances, but it’s not a straight comedic role. This is probably the first dramatic role of weight I’ve seen her in, and she actually shows she has the chops. Going forward, I would hope she can break away from the typecasting she was falling into because she has range.
Plaza is backed up by an incredibly capable supporting cast. Her co-star is Elizabeth Olsen as Taylor Sloane. I have been a huge fan of Olsen since I saw her first significant lead performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene. I love that film so much it has been the focus of first and only (so far) Cinematic Immersion Tank. Olsen is an actress with an incredible range and a true understanding of the characters she plays. Taylor Sloane could easily be a disgusting, unlikeable character, but Olsen finds things in her that ground and humanize the self-made tastemaker. O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s landlord in Venice and a screenwriter out to pen the next Batman movie (it’s a spec script with no real interest from any studio). Once again, the screenwriter who thinks more of his talent than there is could be played as a farce, but Jackson presents his character as ambitious but human.
The presentation of characters as real and believable isn’t to say the film is going soft on these people. The entire piece is a satire with deep horror/thriller tones woven throughout. Ingrid is a dangerous person, the opening scene of the film makes this clear. Later in the movie, Ingrid is responsible, through deception, for landing people in the hospital. All of this is fueled by her perception of what it means to be loved by a large number of people. But her entire definition of love is warped. Instead of love what she seeks is fawning adulation and the film makes it clear that this attention is very cold and distorted.
Like all good horror films, Ingrid Goes West ends on an ambiguous note. We don’t know where she will go next, but we can definitely infer what her next steps might be. There are characters around her who think they are helping Ingrid or caring for her but don’t seem to realize they are merely enabling a deeply mentally unstable young woman. Horror, tragedy, satire, and dark comedy are tangled up in Ingrid Goes West, and it makes a for a picture that lingers with you long after the screen cuts to black.