Kathleen is a new mother, staying at home with her child while her husband works. But while her house is large and spacious and things seem okay, the adjustment is proving difficult, and she’s feeling anxious lately.
As she goes about her day, she has startling imaginings of disasters and darkness. But as these intrusive thoughts get more disturbing, the line between reality and imagination becomes blurred.
This horror-drama short — written by Lisa Cisneros and directed by Danny Rhodes — is a painstakingly constructed portrait of one woman’s descent into an increasingly severe post-partum anxiety and OCD, exploring how it can bleed into psychosis. Like many films in the horror genre, it raises chills and suspense with excellent editing and command of craft. But the horror here comes from watching a mother slowly become unhinged, and wondering just if or how she may break.
The film is almost minimal in many ways, with little dialogue and an almost abstract, cool and distant visual style is almost antiseptically gleaming. Kathleen’s world seems cold, lonely and isolating, which does nothing to help her feelings. She lives in a large, comfortable home, but the way it is shot often turns the space into something strange, uncanny and alienating.
With such a crisp, clean execution, the film generates suspense by setting up the growing severity of Kathleen’s state of mind. It constantly toggles between her dark imaginings and her reality, at first shifting jarringly between the two.
Lead actor Maura Kidwell balances the multiple layers of her role, playing a competent mother on the surface, a more unbalanced one in her visions, and also the inner flickers of shame she feels as she comes out of each fugue state, dismayed at what she’s just imagined. But as the shifts become ever so much more seamless and subtle, until what seems real is revealed as not — and alarmingly raises the question of when Kathleen will cross the line and turn her urges into action.
“Everything’s Fine” ends on an emotionally complex, disquieting note, one that seems like a happy ending but is not. The indeterminacy of it raises important questions and thoughts about motherhood, mental health and just how prevalent yet hidden post-partum adjustment disorders can be.
It’s tempting to judge Kathleen harshly because we assume the love engendered by motherhood is so powerful and all-consuming that it can overcome anything. We also judge mothers harshly if they at all deviate from the “good mother” ideal — and yet we question just why so many stay silent when they struggle with mental illness. The result of the intense fear of judgment is often a seemingly small storm of shame, suffering and silence — one that can easily gain momentum and become something much larger and more foreboding when it’s ignored or hidden.