Written and directed by Bonnie Foster, a fashion model drives into the desert and meets a mysterious stranger who finally brings the change she’s been looking for. Starring: Jade Lorna Sullivan, Micah Fitzgerald and Ryan Manuel.
Jumping into this film is like diving head first into a high fashion ad, one of those that you never have any idea what they’re actually trying to advertise but know that aesthetically, it’s brilliant. There’s a quality to films about models that always feel somewhat sinister, their lives being so focused on traditional ideas of beauty and living in a sheltered world of glamour, and that definitely applies here, the initial scene has one particular moment which also adds tension to that sinister air.
Sullivan plays Alice in such a way that she feels both naïve and chaotic, she has a lot of internal conflict between the world she’s living in and the simpler life she can’t quite seem to settle down into. This character has been led into the bubble of modelling and grown that classic swelled sense of self-importance, but including that inner conflict and her desire to have a child brings her back down to earth and gives her a sense of sympathy, making her someone you can get invested in which was vital as the film is on her shoulders.
As the story moves forward and she encounters the mysterious Tom (Fitzgerald), living alone in a trailer in the desert, it immediately adds a layer of horror because typically in film, you should always be wary of those living like pariahs. It adds the question of whether we unfairly judge the character based on his living situation or if his strangely philosophical and existential way of speaking, indicates a more unusual and potentially dangerous character. Despite divulging a few details about himself, Fitzgerald portrays him in a manner that he’s still difficult to get a read on, he has that classic drawl and timeless masculine style which leaves it impossible to determine whether you should be afraid or fascinated.
Butterfly is strongest aesthetically, which for a film about a model is incredibly fitting, the costumes, sets and style of direction and cinematography all work smoothly together to create something that feels clean, sharp and again, hugely reflective of the story they’re trying to tell. It’s a style that’s particularly enjoyable to watch, it has a nice amount of movement to it, as well as being done in a way that adds to the mystery. The way that it follows Alice, is another nod to that enigmatic style, rather than trying to depict events as through her eyes, it follows her and almost continues the theme of being watched which comes from that initial photoshoot.
There are a couple of weaker elements, however they mostly don’t distract from the quality of the film as a whole, the first being the agent and partner character played by Manuel in the beginning, his acting is a little wooden and feels cliched. The writing is stronger with some aspects than others, the structure of the story is well done but the dialogue can be rather simple and feels overly vague at times. Possibly the biggest issue that the film has is that the ending doesn’t go strongly enough towards eliciting a particular emotion, it’s not specifically sad or shocking or momentous, it sits somewhere in the middle ground and that restricted its impact. It feels as though they maybe aimed a little too high, as it steps far outside of the more humble drama the story has used up to that point, you can see that they were going for a sensational ending and it’s shot well with some great effects but it just doesn’t quite work with the tone of the story. It’s then made to feel slightly more forced with the final words of Fitzgerald’s Tom, you can genuinely see that it’s trying to provide something meaningful or resolute but it unfortunately lacks the sincerity to really hit that note.
This film is stylish and captivating, with a hint of mystery and characters that have just enough complexity to keep you wondering what’s really going on under the surface throughout. It has its flaws and struggles at the finish line, missing the mark for a satisfying ending but it has an interesting style and is well directed and edited. It demonstrates the talent that director Foster has and she brought together a great team, it’s a simply shame that it just fell slightly short of what they were aiming for.