CREDIT: Amazon Studios

This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2018.

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: R for In-Your-Face Bloody Violence, Some Disturbing Behavior, and a Little Bit of Nudity

Release Date: April 6, 2018 (Limited)

As my moviegoing has evolved over the years, I have come to appreciate, even love, films that are more sensory experiences than narrative adventures. But that positivity does not extend to Lynne Ramsay’s latest, You Were Never Really Here. Joaquin Phoenix stars as Joe, a combat veteran suffering from PTSD, and the film seems to have adapted his mental state. The editing is jarring and cacophonous, which is an effective stylistic choice, but after a while it becomes exhausting.

Joe makes his living now as a specialist in the field of rescuing young girls from trafficking. His latest assignment is Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), a state senator’s daughter who he seems to have a spiritual connection with, or at least that is how it plays out in this film’s dreamy environment. He saves her, but then they get separated, then a conspiracy that I cannot begin to make sense of is uncovered, people get shot in the head, he saves her again, more people get shot in the head. It is all a bloody mess, both literally and metaphorically. We the audience are all stuck in this with no room to breathe, just like Joe with his face under a plastic bag in the opening shot.

I appreciate the thoroughness and relentlessness that Ramsay has applied to this experience, but she is on a frequency that I am just not on. Phoenix reliably gives the kind of intense performance that makes you worried about his mental health, and that only adds to the despair. There is no grappling with the oppressiveness, nor is there much in the way of relief. The final scene does provide a notable exception, though, as it at first appears to underscore the endlessness of the violence, but it then pulls off a trick to suggest that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.

You Were Never Really Here is Recommended If You Like: Jacob’s Ladder, Stylization above all else

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 PTSD Flashbacks