Writer and director Mitzi Peirone’s Braid was one of the films at last year’s FrightFest which seemed to divide the audience, prompting intense reactions in everyone I spoke to about it.
An art house horror unafraid to dive straight into more surreal moments rather than stick to its story, the director herself described it as a “visual poem“ in her introduction. These two words worried me somewhat as the lights dimmed and the movie started.
However, to my surprise and satisfaction Braid was far more engaging than many other horrors of a similar ilk and although it meandered into pretension in some moments there is no doubt that artistically many scenes stood out for their style and brutal beauty.
The story is sparse with two friends Tilda and Petula (Flesh and Bone’s Sarah Hay and Nocturnal Animals Imogen Waterhouse) going on the run after their home is raided by the NYPD and the large amount of drugs they were dealing is lost.
Desperate to find a place to hide and recoup the cash their supplier is after them for, they reluctantly decide to head for the mansion of a childhood friend Daphne (Madeline Brewer seen in The Handmaid’s Tale), a wealthy but mentally unstable heiress who lives alone in her family estate.
Their plan is simple: to steal Daphne’s money and leave. However, to get inside they must take part in a warped childhood game of make-believe where Daphne is the Mother, Tilda her daughter and Petula the Doctor.
With extremely strict rules and deadly punishments for any digressions, the game begins. But thanks to by the drugs they have sneaked in and Daphne’s deranged demands, the pair start to lose track not only of their scheme, but also of what is real around them, throwing the threesome into a spiral of madness where no-one can win.
With the movie cut into sections, each opening with one of the rules of the game, Braid becomes more nightmarish the further you find yourself. The insanity soon creeps over the audience as it does the characters inside the barren and eerie environment they are trapped within.
Performance-wise the three central female leads do a fine job given that the film is not a traditional narrative with conventional characters. All of them exude the appropriate amount of terror and tension – both of which seem to permeate the mansion and mood of the whole movie.
Those looking for a coherent plot structure with distinct character development may become frustrated, though to my mind, Peirone’s script delivers more answers than many other films that position themselves on the same surreal side of horror.
If you are a fan of art house horror or more experimental film making Braid is a trippy ride into a dark, demented dreamscape that will visually excite as much as it unnerves you. Just lock your preconceptions away and enjoy the game.