Review: Symptomatic

Written and directed by Sonia Gumuchian, when a young woman begins working closely with a celebrated doctor, she is torn between staying silent about her boss’ inappropriate advances or making noise about a man with a spotless record. Starring: Kate Williamson, Drummond Macdougall and Justin Lacey.

Sexual harassment comes in many forms and while it’s indisputably a topic that affects more than just women, women do tend to be faced with it most often. It’s only in recent years that the conversation has opened up about what constitutes sexual harassment, so it’s great to show a blend of the physical and non-physical. Symptomatic focuses mainly on the consequences, the emotional turmoil that it causes for Angie (Kate Williamson) and her struggle to know what to do next or where to turn. It also touches well upon the façade that abusers typically have, a false niceness and overt compensation. That then leads to the excuses that can tend to be made on their behalf, particularly by other male co-workers, playing off their behaviour as ‘friendly’ and heading into classic gaslighting territory.

However, the way that the story progresses leaves a lot of things unsaid, it’s a tricky topic so having a fairly slow pacing doesn’t give a lot of room to dig deep into it. It feels as though when the credits roll, we’ve only been introduced to what is a much larger story. That’s not to say that it doesn’t work on its own, it’s still a great effort to explore the subject but there’s a stiffness to its movement and flow. It’s not quite grasping onto the nuance and depth that the topic has to offer. The choice to use an everyday aesthetic and keep things relatively simple fits well with exploring how this can happen to anyone. However, the editing and a few of the shots show potential to enhance the fear, discomfort, mental anguish and anxiety. Its toes are dipped into those emotions but not brought out to their fullest extent.

Although Kate Williamson’s performance is an affecting portrayal of that experience. She brings a quietness to it which is a great way to show how these issues can be internalised and become hugely isolating for the person suffering. She’s also presenting Angie in a way that’s hugely accessible, it’s left so open that it’s easy to imagine yourself, or anyone in her situation. The same goes for Drummond Macdougall and Justin Lacey, they’re creating interchangeable pieces, their actions could be the actions of any men and that’s the real point here. The ensemble get across how common this experience is, not just to be a victim of harassment but also those who underestimate what’s happening and don’t support those who need it most.

Symptomatic portrays an extremely relatable example of sexual harassment, showing how it’s an experience which countless women have faced in their lifetime. Kate Williamson does justice to reflecting the widespread nature of the topic, her performance is perfectly accessible and sympathetic. Especially in how the majority of her experience is facing this problem alone, which is incredibly common. However, it is a touch slow and it feels as though there was more to this story which could have been explored but it’s regardless a valiant attempt at examining a very complex issue.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Screened as part of FirstGlance Los Angeles Film Fest 2023

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