The psychological thriller “Fixation” is a film that places more weight on style rather than substance. It’s visually haunting, features an unsettling lead performance from Maddie Hasson, and is skillfully directed by Mercedes Bryce Morgan (in her feature debut), but the story feels lazy and repetitive.
Dora (Hasson) has been committed to a sketchy institution by a pair of mysteriously sinister doctors (Genesis Rodriguez, Stephen McHattie). It is there where she is undergoing a psychiatric evaluation before her final sentencing in a murder trial for a crime that she cannot remember. Using unorthodox treatment methods, her doctors try to recreate Dora’s traumatic past in order to uncover the truth. As the test grow more frightening, the young woman begins to question the true motives of those in charge.
It’s a film that conveniently blurs fact and fiction as a means to avoid compelling storytelling, which leads to an aggravating experience as a viewer. When no one knows what’s real and what’s imagined, it becomes a series of disturbing flashbacks and a constant questioning of reality. There are some themes that are specifically aimed at women, including Dora’s complicated relationship with her own abusers and her constant suffering from the aftermath of gaslighting, but they aren’t presented in a new or unique fashion. While I understand what the filmmaker was going for, the story is lacking. Reality, fantasy, blah blah blah.
The film is intense and confrontational in a way that’s jarring, from the opening scene that jumps right into the story to the tight close-up shots and disorienting framing. Dora’s raging outbursts and screaming are chilling, especially when paired with visuals that tap into her subconscious nightmares. It’s reminiscent of an avant-garde “Alice in Wonderland.”
“Fixation” is a great looking film with disturbing visuals and a horror that lingers, but it’s also an exercise in stamina to watch.