Natalie Kfoury – Co-Editor-in-Chief
It’s hard to concoct a perfect psychological thriller film. It can be difficult to draw the line as to where to stop pulling the audience through a maze as they question themselves time and time again and when to keep going and to add more twists and turns to that maze. Too much confusion can lose the viewer and too little can bore them. While “Side Effects” is not a perfect psychological thriller, it comes close. Directed by Steven Soderbergh and with a powerful cast including Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum, “Side Effects” effectively pulls the audience in and keeps them guessing themselves, as a good psychological thriller should, through the film’s length.
“Side Effects” follows the story of Emily Taylor (Mara), who becomes severely depressed with suicidal outbursts even though her husband, Martin (Tatum), was recently released from a four-year prison sentence for insider trading. Emily begins to see a psychiatrist, Jonathon Banks (Law) who, after trying other prescriptions on her, decides to start Emily on an experimental new drug, Ablixa.
A side effect of the drug is sleepwalking, which seems to be an annoyance at first for Emily and Martin, whose lives together seem to have improved since Emily started Ablixa. However, the sleepwalking episodes take a turn for the worst when Emily commits an act that lands her in the hands of the court of law, as people question whether Emily, Ablixa, or Jonathon, as her medical consultant, was responsible for the act.
This is just the start of the intricate maze that the audience is lead on during “Side Effects.” The film succeeds because it keeps the audience second-guessing themselves and the acts of the characters. The viewer constantly wonders who the “bad guy” is and who is in the right. Nothing is black and white in “Side Effects” and that is why it is so strong.
“Side Effects” is also strong because of the casting. Mara (“Girl with the Dragon Tat- too”) is especially powerful. She captures the essence of a woman battling depression and anxiety with perfection. “Side Effects” is another opportunity to embrace and witness Mara’s versatility as an actress.
While the film is often near perfection, it fails in being too much of a psychological thriller at times. It can get very confusing for the viewer and it is obvious that the plot and characters’ actions might become clearer with more than one viewing. For some, this is ideal as they enjoy multiple viewings of films and enjoy watching some- thing that challenges their mind. For others, the intricate maze that “Side Effects” presents might be too much and might feel that the content is too far-fetched as the film progresses.
“Side Effects” is a powerful film that does not take any breaks or lulls in its length. It is well-made, challenges the audience, and brings to light some incredible performances by actors and actresses. While it may not quite be a perfect psychological thriller, it is ideal for those who love the genre.