The trippy Sundance breakout starring Aubrey Plaza hits theaters and VOD Dec. 4.

By Mary Sollosi
October 06, 2020 at 11:00 AM EDT

This year, even as politics have blended into entertainment, truth into lies, April into August, it’s still the blurred boundary between art and reality that wins out onscreen.

That’s the ever-indistinct line on which sits Black Bear, a singular drama from writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine that premiered at Sundance in January (where it earned an A- review from EW). The dark, dreamlike indie stars Aubrey Plaza as Allison, a filmmaker and actress who goes to stay in a lake house with friends-of-friends Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon) in search of inspiration. What she finds — or perhaps what she herself inspires — is a tangled web of jealousy, desire, and control, all three of them manipulating each other into confirming their own deepest fears.

“Sometimes the dynamic of a third person in a romantic relationship can kind of wreak havoc if there are already these insecurities or these cracks,” Gadon says. “I thought that [the film] really explored that in a very intense way.” Adds Plaza: “This delivers, like, the absolute nightmare version of that.”

In an electrifying shift, the cabin in the woods becomes not just a setting for the Allison, Gabe, and Blair’s fraught dialogues but a movie set for their scripted ones, where the dynamic is intensified — and mirrored — by the high drama of shooting an indie film. After all, what’s a filmmaker if not someone drawing out others’ buried emotions? Trying to make a scene?

Black Bear — Still 1
Credit: Rob Leitzell

Black Bear’s filmmaking aspect adds another layer of meaning — and of interest for Plaza, who was the first of the actors to sign onto the project and also produced the film. “What does it mean to be in a relationship and to be creating art? When does it go too far, and when is it worth it?” she reflects. “That’s very personal to me and interesting to me. And I think the movie explores that really in a f---ed-up way.”

While Abbott relished “the chance to poke fun at [some] directors that I’ve worked with” in the moviemaking sequences — which are slyly hilarious even as the trio’s tortured relationships unravel amid the chaos — it was the sensibility of another medium that won him over to make the film in the first place. “It kind of felt like this weird mix of cinema and a theatrical experience,” he says of Levine’s dense, rich script (which, as all three actors separately and appreciatively note, reads like a stage play). “Normally I don’t like scripts that are that verbose, but it was so well written.”

“It’s beautifully written,” Plaza agrees. “It’s almost like a meditation on your own worst fears.” Sounds scary as a bear.

Check out the disorienting trailer above. Black Bear hits theaters and VOD Dec. 4.

Video courtesy of Momentum Pictures

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