There’s a moment in writer/director Mitzi Peirone’s Braid where you’re either all in or all out. When the mayhem’s rising, the blood flowing, and the veil of reality’s so thin it’s barely perceivable, a choice has to be made: embrace the madness or run. Of course, it’s a choice not too far from what the characters themselves face in this hallucinogenic nightmare where the rules are the only things that are clear and everything else is fair game.
After evading the police following a drug bust, childhood friends Petula Thames (Imogen Waterhouse) and Tilda Darlings (Sarah Hay) are given 48-hours to come up with the $80k in merchandise the cops confiscated. With nowhere else to turn, they decide to visit their mentally unstable friend, Daphne Peters (Madeline Brewer), whose inheritance might be enough to get them out of trouble. To enter Daphne’s home, however, they must agree to engage in a game of make believe they played as children. Except now, breaking the rules of the game comes with a bloody price Petula and Tilda may not be ready to pay.
Braid is Peirone’s first feature after directing two shorts, but she’s got the vision of someone with much more experience. She uses tracking shots to convey confusion or infer bursts of energy like Guy Ritchie in Snatch, transforming scenes of simple action into something grander and more kinetic. Utilizing fast edits and quick transitions to highlight the growing anxiety of Petula and Tilda, an unease which seeps out into the audience, Peirone puts us exactly where she wants us to be: as ill-at-ease as all three women. With this, the audience finds themselves going down a rabbit hole along with her characters – losing all sense of time, space, and reality – as Peirone destabilizes every anchoring notion of reason. In one scene, Petula and Tilda are restrained for breaking the rules; then, moments later, the two are running down separate corridors to seek out the hidden safe filled with cash. At first, this seems like something incongruous, only to discover it’s not only purposeful, but verging on treacherous. It normally takes a few films for a director to find their footing, but Braid is a piece which showcases a talent with vision and aptitude. Someone whose mind is thinking several steps ahead of the audience at all times; a necessity when crafting a psychothriller bent on warping the minds of all who take this journey.
Going into Braid there’s little to prepare audiences for what’s to come, despite several ingenious signs Peirone includes even from the start. Pierone establishes that Petula and Tilda are akin to the dregs of society, yet the audience feels for them because they’re just trying to get by. However, Petula’s willingness to rob their childhood and Tilda’s constant drug use quickly sets up their individual dynamics and the roles they’ll play in Braid in way that makes them less naughty party girls and something more sinister and broken. Upon the introduction of Daphne, obviously broken herself in the way she clings to a childhood game, it’s clear that these three share a bond deeper than any of them realize. Their game revealing a power dynamic in constant flux. Combined with Pierone’s visual aesthetic and directorial style, the expectations of what Braid is versus what audiences think versus what the character think becomes a concept repeatedly folding in on itself. At first, Braid appears to be a straight-forward heist film, but as it toys with the concept of reality, what was confusing at first is given clarity before the conclusion; however, only pieces of information are permitted so that the audience can create, for themselves, what reality is. Frankly, up to the end, the narrative is a touch hard to grasp as it begins in a seemingly clear way before the tether to reality breaks, warping everything the audience sees until a fog of confusion covers everything. This allows Peirone to up the ante on the more disturbing elements of Braid only to have them chalked up as figments of our imagination, begging the question: is the violence these women endure terrifying or just the suggestion of violence? Almost more important: If the game is make believe, is any of it real? These are the questions that find Braid crawling under your skin, nestling into the small of your spine, needling you as you watch. This makes Braid an intriguing watch the first time around and makes a second watch a requirement, not because the film is difficult to process, but because it’s rich with answers that rarely answer questions in the way audiences want.
Maintaining tension in Braid is a high-wire act the cast handles with aplomb. Waterhouse adds layers to a character which could easily be belittled. Petula is a person willing to cross many lines to get the lifestyle she wants and possesses the drive to make it happen. Waterhouse not only makes the hard edge of Petula feel real, she makes Petula’s growth through the game a natural evolution. Similarly, Hay makes every moment of Tilda’s torment at the hands of Petula and Daphne feel authentically terrifying. In the game, Tilda is more-or-less at the mercy of Daphne’s ever shifting whims, requiring Hay to convey incredible confidence even as Tilda loses more and more control. In portraying the arbiter of the game, Brewer possesses the most difficult job of the three. Her take on Daphne shifts depending on the place in the narrative, requiring Brewer herself to manage multiple intents and desires, all while being absolutely in the moment. One thing is perfectly clear, these three actors have such amazing chemistry, it’s hard not to believe their complex history isn’t real.
If you’re going to play the game, steal yourself. Braid is not for the weak-minded and it will begin screwing with you almost as soon as it begins. The rules are meant to protect the players, even as it maintains the integrity of the game. As certain as Petula is that Daphne is an easy mark, audiences are going to be equally certain that Braid is something they’ve seen before. Just like Petula, they’ll be dead wrong. As past confronts present, up challenges down, and lies dispute the truth, only the game can keep you safe. Only the game can keep order. If this is the type of insanity that tickles your fancy, Braid is the film for you. A little nasty, a little dirty, and a fantastic opening salvo from Mitzi Peirone.
In theaters and on VOD February 1, 2019.
For information on where to find a screening of Braid near you, head to the official website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.