Directed by: #TerrellLamont
Written by: Terrell Lamont
Though starting strong with a crimson soaked atmosphere and unsettling score from Chanin Russo, Ava loses all intrigue and gravitas with its laborious pacing. Writer-director Terrell Lamont tells the story of the titular character, abducted, isolated and experimented by a peculiar scientist as strange creatures and haunting memories torment her. The bulk of the film is Ava attempting to unravel the truth to her captivity with Lamont attempting to build suspense with questions to Ava’s own sanity. Not just through the visuals that the torture creates but in conversations Ava has with an unseen cellmate, Ava has pads attached to her temples and it's clear that whatever experiment she is unwillingly part of is psychological. Even as Lamont slowly reveals the truth to the facility and the captor, there is still an air of uncertainty to what we may be seeing but it lacks a compelling escalation, even with the main character desperate for answers and escape.
Tonally Ava feels akin to a Black Mirror episode on a b-movie budget with similarities to episodes “The Entire History of You” and “White Bear” in its plot and themes. The other issue is that there isn’t enough story to justify its 90-minute runtime, with large swaths of the film dragging along. The tension and atmosphere Lamont can initially create is completely deflated by the third act as the banal revelations are padded out. Though the combination of B-Movie aesthetic with character drama has its positives with Holly Westwood’s strong lead performance. Her character overcomes obstacle after obstacle while wrestling with her damaged psyche, Westwood easily keeps her most dramatic moments remaining grounded among all the science fiction. Though Hal Whiteside’s performance as the captor is let down by the script’s use of self-referential classic movie quotes and physical appearance as a classic mad scientist.
While Ava drags along there are positives in its presentation as Lamont’s cinematography combined with Heather Webb’s production design is another example of how the film combines gritty sci-fi with the more outlandish elements with great results. When the film is soaked in red, the character is subjected to the mercy of mysterious creatures and assailants, fear and trauma in constant conflict. Lamont wants to build this mystery to the world and meaning however the law of diminishing returns quickly set in. Ava’s spends the runtime in white medical underwear, highlighting her vulnerability but also addressing how women are physically presented in science fiction. To the captor she is merely an object being dehumanised, not a person but a plaything, forcing this character to fight back for her agency and identity.
Battling against tropes and exploring grief, fear and motherhood, Ava has plenty of interesting visuals and ideas at its disposal. Not all of them work in harmony but the main issue is that Lamont is unable to balance this out in an engrossing feature narrative. The film readily loses steam with most of the latter half feels like you’re just watching Westwood slowly crawl on the floor, taking her time to get to the now underwhelming conclusion. Lamont’s vision has promise but seems more suited for a more refined, focused and shorter story.