Home » Ultrasound Combines Sharp Sound Design And An Unreliable Narrator Into A Genuinely Surprising Sci-Fi Thriller [Fantasia 2021 Review]

Ultrasound Combines Sharp Sound Design And An Unreliable Narrator Into A Genuinely Surprising Sci-Fi Thriller [Fantasia 2021 Review]

Ultrasound Fantasia Fest 2021 Movie Review

Ultrasound is unafraid to introduce the abstract and off kilter within its first few frames. A wash of inky blue and jet black is shot in wide angle, only recognizable as a car driving down a mountain road when the headlights come into view. Glen (Vincent Kartheiser) has a tire blowout and near accident due to the rain, injuring himself in the process.

Staggering to the nearest house for help, the married couple inside are eager to assist him. If anything, Art (Bob Stephenson), and his youthful wife Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez) are a touch too solicitous. Drinks are poured, awkward conversation is made, and supposed friendliness becomes an indecent proposal. Glen is left to do his walk of shame out of an empty house the following morning.

The film abruptly jumps over to a woman named Katie (Rainey Qualley). She’s just moved long distance to be with her boyfriend, Alex (Chris Gartin). However, she spends her days alone in their supposedly shared apartment. She’s beginning to suspect perhaps there’s something Alex isn’t telling. Everyone around her (including strangers) seems to be seeing something she isn’t.

Meanwhile, somewhere nearby, Shannon (Breeda Wool) has just been hired on at a secretive medical research and development facility. Despite her boss’ (Tunde Adebimpe) condescending reassurances, she is beginning to notice the job she has isn’t the experimental therapy trials she signed up to work on. 

Ultrasound 2021 Movie Review

Ultrasound takes its time establishing each of these simultaneous stories, in what seems like a random order. Writer Conor Stechschulte adapted the script from his own multi volume graphic novel, Generous Bosom, and the slight disjointedness of the introduction of each main plot strand does seem a bit of a holdover from a more sequential style of storytelling.

However, once these subplots begin to intersect, the mystery that brings them together is impressively plotted and executed. While this makes Ultrasound a bit tricky to neatly summarize, the layered narrative legerdemain it manages to pull off is best enjoyed without too much advance knowledge. 

Each new revelation is like a twist of a kaleidoscope, the same pieces forming new connections and patterns. No one is who they seem to be in most thriller adjacent films, but Ultrasound ups the ante by making the when, where and why of its events equally questionable. This is a film about how even our own memories can’t be treated as inviolate, our brains built to find similarities in randomness, to erase details that don’t belong. From individual paranoias to mass conspiracy, we’re never far from being manipulated by someone. Doesn’t matter if its a toxic ex, an advertising executive, or a government agency, we’re all easy marks for a person who knows exactly where to look for the blind spots.

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This sort of high concept, braided plot doesn’t leave a huge amount of time for character development, but the cast is well stocked with television regulars and experienced character actors who know how to maximize their impact in limited bursts of screen time. The entire cast puts in solid performances, but Bob Stephenson’s Art has perhaps the most constantly shifting character, and deserves praise for making all of the duality look so eerily effortless.

Rob Schroeder’s direction visually fills gaps in what otherwise might have been handled with more standard exposition. Glen’s misadventures are in wider angles and softer edges, like an oddly vivid nightmare. Katie’s world is brighter and crisper, sharp sunlight and expensive minimalism. While this is clearly a film meant to be contemporary, Shannon wanders the halls of her workplace, and it’s full of the sort of drab retrofuturist gadgets and blinking lights that heralded the lairs of villains in 1940s serials. Rather than clashing, this mélange of visual styles helps give each thread a distinctive identity amongst the whole. 

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Zak Engel’s sound design helps the audience be further pulled in to the film’s slippery world. His more traditional scoring feels reminiscent of some of the more melancholic moments of Reznor & Ross’ soundtrack work, without being derivative of it. Perhaps even more impressive is the menacing mumble of clicks, beeps and high pitched squeals across the soundscape, adding both atmosphere and a meta element to subtly enhance the film’s themes.

Ultrasound‘s coolly cerebral approach and constantly changing perspectives will not be to everyone’s taste, frustrating and/or confusing viewers looking for a more literal and linear piece of sci-fi. There’s plenty of reward here for those patient enough to give Ultrasound the dedicated attention and eye toward small details its many moving parts demand. Audacious and well crafted, it hides its best tricks in plain sight, and is a promising feature debut for both writer and director.

Combining the queasy ambiguity of the best 70s conspiracy thrillers, with much more contemporary approaches to where the danger actually lies, the movie feels simultaneously like a retro throwback and something completely fresh. Ultrasound’s freaky frequency mirror maze manages to keep the audience guessing until the end, getting them so caught up in what lies around the next corner that they end up stepping right over the trail of curated clues right beneath their feet.


Director: Rob Schroeder
Writer: Conor Stechschulte
Stars: Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool
Release date: June 15th, 2021 
Studio/Production Company: Lodger Films
Language: English
Run Time: 103 minutes

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