An award-winning actress has just won acclaim for her performance as a woman who struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. But then she is interviewed at her home by a particularly combative critic. And as she’s pummeled with questions, the interview goes awry, and her carefully polished surface begins to unravel.
Writer-director Stella Velon’s psychological drama is a tightly focused narrative, focused on a key shift in consciousness in one woman who has spent much time and effort building a fortress around a troubled past and finds it crumbling around her.
The writing and narrative scope focus on one interaction, but the intense laser-like beam of attention is not just about limiting time and space in the story. It’s also built into the psychological intensity of the unusually open, confrontational and rigorous interaction that an interview can provide, which offers a depth of focus that the unnamed (and mostly unseen) critic takes advantage of — and which rattles the cool, elegant image and composure of the actress herself.
The visuals, too, establish that sense of close-focus confrontation, where the camera often frames close-ups and detail shots of the interview. Close-ups usually provide intimacy and emotional access in filmic storytelling, but here they also have the claustrophobia of relentless focus.
Halfway through the film, though, the film makes a shift, signaled in the story’s events and the changing film language. We see footage of the interview being recorded on video, as well as looser, wider framings, and the emotions become wilder in expression as well.
As the film reveals its full hand, what unites the different strands is Velon’s performance, which stays truthful and precise, no matter what twist or turn is happening. She’s able to balance the line between defensive steeliness and fragility, and when her defenses fall, she gets at the core of shame, self-loathing and profound sadness that fuels both the actress and the story.
“The Critic” highlights one of the most primal pleasures of watching films and televisions: the hypnotic allure of watching a compelling face feel and express emotions, often in a way that makes them more legible and understandable to ourselves.
The characters may or may not be immediately relatable — we may not be award-winning actresses ourselves — but many struggle with the feeling of being unworthy, or feeling guilt at escaping a tragic fate that has consumed others. “The Critic” takes these tangled knots of emotions and re-weaves them into a multi-layered story with suspense and drama, provoking thought and reflection on our own dark secret spots of vulnerability.