‘Blind Spot’ Review : Single-take drama takes out the best in its actors despite some weaknesses in the script
Blind Spot starts off with some of the most unnerving first fifteen minutes in recent memory. We follow a Norwegian teenager, Tea, and her friend, as they finish their handball practice and walk home together — a mundane scene of everyday life. Their subjects of conversion aren’t anything to be alarmed about, revolving around their homework, their grades, the other girls in their class. Hints of teenage self-doubt can be sensed from both of the girls, but nothing about the way they act seems out of the ordinary.
However, this almost parody of normality unfolding before our eyes makes us grow increasingly uncomfortable as the walk home gets longer and longer. Even though nothing about this scene should make us feel nervous, a very real anxiety takes control of us as the minutes go by. A shadow in the background, a faint noise in the distance — we’re looking out for anything that could turn this ordinary day into a nightmare. Even when Tea gets home, the feeling of dread doesn’t leave us. We don’t know exactly what, but it is pretty clear that something is going to happen to the young girl.
Blind Spot shows hints of genius when the awaited incident finally unfolds just out of our sight. Despite knowing that something was going to happen, finding out what is still both shocking and upsetting. We’re not even twenty minutes into the runtime at this point, and yet the film already managed to pull the carpet from underneath our feet. There’s a film that chose its title well.
The single-take approach to film isn’t as revolutionary as it used to be. While they are still a rarity in the cinematic landscape as a whole, films like Sebastian Schipper’s thriller Victoria or this year’s U — July 22 have been outstanding enough to make audiences grow somewhat familiar with the idea of this technical feat. Of course, one could consequently become worried that the filming technique would become nothing more than a gimmick, a cinematic trick to distract the audience from an otherwise poorly conceived product. Fortunately, the use of the one-shot technique in Blind Spot never feels out of place or gimmicky, and turns out to be a well thought-out choice. The fact that we are seeing the action unfold in real time makes it incredibly hard to take a step back, completely involving us into the action at all times. This is not a film full of complex plot points — but this only helps in building a sense of realism. It is the feeling of truth that colors the entire film that makes it work as well as it does.
Since the film is so heavily based on one single event and its consequences, it would be hard to discuss anything about it without giving away everything that makes it such a special experience — this review will therefore have to be kept relatively short. As mentioned before, the film gives a pretty consequent hint about its subject matter through its title. The film is less about the “what” than about the “why”, less about rounding every plot thread off in a clean way than exploring why they are here in the first place. By the time the end credits roll, it feels like both everything and nothing happens. We don’t know much more than we did at the beginning. It is the sheer fact that we are now questioning these things that makes the experience worthwhile.
A film with such a heavy focus on character and the inner workings of the human mind could not work without the acting to back it up. Fortunately, every single member of the cast of Tuva Novotny’s directing debut shines. Pia Tjelta in particular offers what we can already call one of the best performances of the year even though we are only two months into 2019. As Tea’s mother, she goes from incomprehension to panic to slowly calming down to panicking again, never fully quieting down. It is an exhausting performance to watch, and it was most likely a difficult state of mind to embody for almost two hours as well. Tjelta’s performance is distinctly noteworthy because she occupies the screen throughout almost the entire runtime but is never subject to any dip in quality; however, the rest of the cast is just as worthy of praise. Neither Anders (Tea’s father, portrayed by Anders Baasmo Christansen), Hasse (her grandfather, portrayed by Per Frish), or Martin (the nurse taking care of the family after the incident, portrayed by Oddgeir Thune) never feel like anything less than real people.
What this hints at beyond the stellar acting talent all around is of course a quality in the writing itself. And indeed, Novotny does a brilliant job at writing normal people caught in a horrifying situation. It is a deeply human story at its heart. The messages she puts through the script never feel forced but simply appear to us as a natural progression of the story. It is definitely a bold debut that has been handled with both care and talent.
Unfortunately, the intersection between the real time style and the writing occasionally offers some weaknesses. Some events happen way more quickly than they ever would in real life, while some slightly overstay their welcome. The closer the film comes to the end, the more obvious its weaknesses become. While these aren’t enough to ruin the experience as a whole, it does slightly disappoint and stops the film from achieving the greatness that seemed promised to us in its first hour.
Blind Spot is bold in more aspects than one. The treatment of mental health on screen has been getting slightly more frequent in these past few years, but it still remains quite a taboo subject in society. Exploring something so internal all the while putting an incredible emphasis on the visual aspect of the film is definitely not a combination that most filmmakers would have dared to use. It is pleasing to see a first time director brave enough to attempt such an ambitious project, and even better to see her actually succeed. Because of a few weaknesses that become apparent as the film goes on, the film remains just a short way from being truly great, which could prove to be quite frustrating for some. However, it is far from being enough to erase all of the dread, angst, stress and suspense felt over the course of our stay with Tea’s family. Despite its flaws, Blind Spot will stick with you for a long time after the camera stops rolling.