'Elizabeth Blue': Film Review

Elizabeth Blue Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Global Digital Releasing
A worthy attempt at difficult subject matter.

Anna Schafer plays a young woman suffering from schizophrenia in Vincent Sabella's debut feature.

A palpable authenticity permeates Vincent Sabella’s debut feature about a young woman suffering from schizophrenia. The director/co-screenwriter, who suffers from the condition himself, based the film on his own experiences when his medications failed to work. His portrait of the title character of Elizabeth Blue thus feels all too real in terms of depicting her suffering and confusion.

Unfortunately, that in itself doesn’t make it a fully successful film. Despite Anna Schafer’s gripping performance in the lead role, this deeply personal effort is too narratively sluggish to sustain attention.

At the story’s beginning, Elizabeth is released from a mental hospital and returns to the Los Angeles apartment she shares with her hunky, emotionally supportive boyfriend, Grant (Ryan Vincent). She also begins seeing a new psychiatrist, Dr. Bowman (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who also executive produced), who puts her on a diet of new medications that he assures her will prove successful in alleviating her symptoms.

“Mental illness doesn’t need to be treated like a dirty secret,” Bowman tells her in the quietly comforting tones endemic to cinematic shrinks.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth finds herself still succumbing to her mental demons which include a malevolent figure (Christopher Ashman) encouraging her to kill herself, an imaginary raccoon in her bathroom and the deafening sound of a roaring train in the middle of the night. Her concerned doctor experiments with different meds as she becomes increasingly obsessed with her impending marriage. At one point, her mother (Kathleen Quinlan) shows up and begins a heated argument in which she blames Elizabeth’s illness for causing her father to walk out on the family years many ago.

The film does an excellent job of conveying the hallucinatory effects of Elizabeth’s condition via sound, photographic and editing effects. But it’s Schafer who most effectively suggests her character’s tortured mental state with her physically precise and emotionally committed turn. This represents Schafer’s first starring role, but it certainly won’t be her last.

But her efforts are undercut by such tired tropes as her character too often staring blankly into space or at her own reflection in the mirror for what seems like minutes at a time. The director’s musical choices are often painfully heavy-handed, such as Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” a recording which really needs to be given a rest. There’s also a surprise twist toward the end that won’t be hard to guess for anyone who’s ever seen a film or television show about someone suffering from mental illness. The device may have worked fine in a thriller, but it feels too gimmicky for this drama attempting be a serious examination of its subject.

Production company: Elizabeth Blue Productions
Distributor: Global Digital Releasing
Cast: Anna Schafer, Ryan Vincent, Kathleen Quinlan, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Christopher Ashman, Inger Tudor, Nicola Lambo
Director: Vincent Sabella
Screenwriters: Vincent Sabella, Aldred D. Huffington
Producer: Joe Dain
Executive producers: Elliot Abbott, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje
Director of photography: Joel Marsh
Production designer: Robert Hummel
Editor: Brad Geiszler
Costume designer: Isabel Mandujano
Composer: August Road

94 minutes