Everyone knows a horse girl. They stash their homework in colorful horse folders, gallop their way through recess and talk about equestrian practice at every opportunity. It’s such a stereotype that Urban Dictionary has 26 definitions of the term. However harmless this teasing may seem, though, “Horse Girl,” the new film from Jeff Baena (“The Little Hours”) and Allison Brie (“Glow”), shows that one never knows what might lurk behind those tacky horse T-shirts.
“Horse Girl” begins by exploring the quirky life of Sarah, the titular Horse Girl, played by Brie. She works at a craft store, where the fantastic Molly Shannon (“Superstar”) plays her boss. Then Sarah goes to Zumba class, hangs around a stable (where she neither works nor takes lessons) a little too often and spends her nights alone watching “Purgatory,” a cheesy television show somewhere between “Criminal Minds” and “Supernatural.” On her birthday, Sarah is pressured by her roommate, played by Debby Ryan (“Insatiable”), to go on a date. The expected Horse Girl hijinks ensue as Sarah gets drunk, gallops on the dance floor and gets a nosebleed, yet somehow still woos the boy.
However banal all of this may seem, the fact that Sarah’s favorite show is called “Purgatory” is an early hint for what is to come. Sarah, like many people in America today, lives on a razor thin line between innocuous tedium and deranged chaos. Soon, this balance begins to fall apart.
Sarah hears voices at night when nobody is home. She wakes up in strange places with no recollection of how she got there. She becomes certain that people from her dreams are trying to tell her something in real life. Reasons for this are hinted at, but to say any more would be a spoiler. As Sarah loses control, the narrative follows suit, with comedic tropes falling away to insane, terrifying surreality. “Horse Girl” has a remarkable shift from light comedy to head-spinning psychological thrills that most films wouldn’t be able to pull off.
It’s a risky move, but it succeeds because of Brie’s performance. She is entirely convincing in every scene and, no matter how unhinged Sarah becomes, Brie’s acting keeps the viewer invested. What at the beginning seemed quirky and awkward about Sarah becomes tragic and alarming, and one increasingly feels guilty for laughing.
By the end, viewers will likely have no idea what in “Horse Girl” was real and what was in Sarah’s incredibly fractured head. Yet the film’s chaos has an ever-present subtext of meaning, pointing towards how mentally-struggling people in modern America are isolated, joked about and misunderstood, left on their own to sort through the debilitating consequences of their conditions. “Horse Girl” is more than just another movie making fun of a current meme. It’s a hilarious, bizarre, heart-wrenching film that shows how everyday life can quickly fall apart and leave nothing but unanswered questions.
The movie leaves so much up for interpretation that most people will probably find it a waste of time. Yet for those looking for something insanely innovative that also has something to say about America, there’s nothing better than “Horse Girl.”