The mind-bending Ultrasound grabs hold of you with its first ten or fifteen minutes. Glen (Vincent Kartheiser) is driving on a deserted road when he pops his tires on some spikes. He approaches a nearby house and asks to use the phone. The house's owner, Art (Bob Stephenson), points out that it's storming and there won't be a tow truck available until morning. Glen accepts his invitation to spend the night, since there are no hotels nearby. Art's seeming kindness takes on a weird twist when he insists that Glen sleep with his wife, Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez).
Then we abruptly jump to Katie (Rainey Qualley), a young woman who appears to be having a secret relationship with a slightly older man. His attitude toward her is oddly dismissive. We also meet Shannon (Breeda Wool), a medical professional working in some kind of research facility. She expresses discomfort to her supervisor about the ethics of the experiment she's helping with, only to be told she's overreacting.
Ultrasound is the kind of movie that intentionally confuses you. Characters and scenarios are introduced that seem to have nothing to do with each other. It's unclear why we leave one story thread to jump to another. Questions pile up. What does Glen have to do with Katie? Why did Art want Glen to sleep with Cyndi? What are the researchers doing that makes Shannon so uneasy? Is a key pregnancy in the story real, or is the character under some kind of delusion? Is there a connection between Shannon and Art?
Puzzle movies of this sort can work, but only if they tie all the elements together at just the right time. If they don't, everything starts unraveling quickly, just as it does in Ultrasound. The questions build intrigue for a while. The screenplay by Conor Stechschulte waits too long to start providing answers, though, causing that intrigue to morph into impatience, and finally into apathy. By the time the film started rushing out explanations in the last twenty minutes, I'd long stopped caring. When the viewer doesn't know for sure what's happening, sustaining suspense is impossible.
Director Rob Schroeder has an appropriately eerie visual style, and the actors are very good. I especially liked the off-kilter chemistry between Kartheiser and Lopez. Ultrasound certainly has ambition, too. It wants to say something about gaslighting. That's an incredibly relevant theme for our times. Does it say anything about the subject that we don't already know? I don't think so. Gaslighting is mostly just utilized as a convenient hook to hang a lot of mysterious scenes on.
There's enough workable material here to make a compelling movie. That material simply needed to be honed and structured more than it is.
out of four
Ultrasound is unrated, but contains adult language, some sexual content, and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.