Most of us are deeply rooted in reality, which we rely on to inform our comprehension of the world around us. So when that reality is threatened, we must question if our perception is as authentic as we believe it to be. In this innovative new film, Sightless, we’re offered the chance to explore this actuality.
Sightless, which met mixed reviews on its release in 2020, landed on Netflix earlier this month. Starring Riverdale’s Madelaine Petsch as the protagonist Ellen Ashland, the actress also has an Executive Producer role for the film. On the film’s release, Petsch released a message on her Instagram stating that “this film is one of the most challenging roles and complex projects I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of.” Petsch’s acting is a breath of fresh air from her well-known portrayal of Cheryl Blossom, but the plot seems predictable at first. Until it is not.
The movie opens on Ellen, a famous musician, waking up in a hospital room. The audience soon discovers that she has lost her sight following a traumatic attack. To make matters worse, her attacker cannot be identified. This is partly due to her limited memory, but also because of her attacker’s bizarre disguise, which we see through her flashbacks.
Sightless grippingly offers a unique connection between its viewers and what it means to live blindly, showing us the world as Ellen does. Her reality is what she imagines. What her other senses pick up forms her understanding of her environment. When Ellen learns new information about her surroundings, our perception also alters with her. Therefore, perception is her only reality. We first witness this in a scene where Ellen is gifted a green canary bird, however, the bird’s colour changes when Ellen is told it is blue instead. As a result, the viewer can step into the protagonist’s shoes. Sightless challenges you to imagine how you would adapt to losing your senses. You find yourself questioning: would you adapt quickly? Or would you wallow in despair, reminiscing on memories as Ellen does?
Albeit an interesting self reflection, this film goes on to shatter the refuge Ellen has created for herself. Ellen’s protective instinct immediately kicks in after hearing the fraught screams of her neighbour through a connected air vent. Paranoia swirls: she discovers that she is helpless, distraught and defenceless. Without her sight, she cannot confirm if what she heard is true. Although she manages to meet with her neighbour Lana, played by December Ensminger, she vehemently denies her previous screams. As a viewer, the film compels you to consider why Lana, would lie. Why does she reject Ellen’s help? As Ellen’s paranoia grows, yours will too.
With a growing demand to supply new films during Britain’s third lockdown, Netflix has gifted viewers with the perfect psychological thriller for a night in. Increasingly, strange and bewildering occurrences manifest throughout the film. Principal photography was filmed in a mere month, with the majority of the scenes taking place in one apartment. Kooper and Petsch successfully bring the static setting to life by introducing a beguiling plot. The screenplay ingeniously navigates the viewer’s perception alongside Ellen’s through clever production design and editing. With the viewer seeing through Ellen’s eyes, this unreliable narration is set up well, exemplified through the disappearance and emergence of objects. As Petsch noted on Instagram, Laura Jean Bransky, the movie’s script supervisor, “helped fearlessly navigate the ever changing set to keep with continuity only she could see.” This aspect of the film thoroughly impressed me. Very often, I empathise with a character’s struggle on screen, but rarely do I actually step into their shoes. Sightless’ directorial techniques perfectly sets up this opportunity.
Considering this is Cooper Karl’s directorial debut and Madelaine Petsch’s first EP credit, Sightless is a good watch. The only downfall to the film was its screenplay. Sightless encourages you to leave your own reality, whether it be sat on a sofa in front of the television or Netflix. However, some of the character’s dialogue breaks the film’s incantation. At times, their diction comes across as forced and far-fetched, especially when I found myself second-guessing the character’s decisions versus how a real person would behave. Regardless, the plot successfully demands its audience’s attention by introducing countless twists. For a true movie binger, a good amount of the twists can be predicted. But before you get discouraged, you may be happy to know that the plot provides enough twists to have you on your toes.
With all the movie’s gimmicks and plot, ultimately Sightless falls short of a big reveal. However, the film’s editing will definitely keep you entertained throughout. This film is a must see if you enjoy an easy enigma, and despite some predictable plot points, the film isn’t without its originalities. The creative editing and cinematography allows us to comprehend the world as though we are blind too. This technique provides an invaluable insight into visual impairments, in a method not seen before. Worthy of its positive reviews, Sightless is an amalgamation of instinct versus perception, offering a fragmentary narrative. The way the movie is filmed, rather than the story is what makes it so special. Madelaine Petsch embodies the protagonist exceptionally, and the supporting actors bolster the plot twists. If you enjoyed similar movies such as Split and Hush, you will enjoy Sightless.
Sightless is available to stream now on Netflix.
Words by Naomi Akintola
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