Test Pattern (2021)

Written & Directed by Shatara Michelle Ford

We’ve seen in recent years an incredible increase in representation in movies. Just last year, there were a number of films about women, made by women, that were among my favorite of the year. With that gap slowly closing (there is plenty of ground still yet to be made up before we reach equality in representation), we are seeing more and more stories that are important and specific to women that we’ve not seen largely told in movies before. Some of these topics are not easy to address, unpleasant as they are. But by opening wide the diversity of film, we’re afforded the opportunity to see some of these stories we haven’t before, giving voice to so many who have not had their stories told before. This is good for everybody, not just women and people of color. With that in mind, Test Pattern is an example of a woman of color telling her story as a black woman.

After an awkward meeting at a bar, Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill) begin dating and find their relationship blossoming. Renesha is about to start a new job, and decides to go out with a friend Amber (Gail Bean), with Evan declining the invite. While having drinks, Amber meets two guys and they four start to have fun together, including taking some edibles and drinking a little more than Renesha was hoping to with work starting the next day. After waking up in the strangers bed, Renesha rushes home to Evan, explaining the hazy night, struggling to remember what might or might not have happened to her. Concerned, Evan rushes Renesha around the city, struggling to find anyone who can administer a rape kit, testing their relationship in the process.

There are a couple of interesting dynamics at play here. One is the brainless machinations of the healthcare system and how they react to women in need. Renesha and Evan are forced to run all around town trying to find someone who can help them. This is not for the lack of trying, Evan is adamant to get the forensic data collected in order to protect his girlfriend and potentially find some justice. But we see through the process of this film just how difficult and frustrating that experience can be, undoubtedly deterring countless women from seeking the justice they deserve for the horrors they’ve had to endure. It’s infuriating to watch them go through and Shatara Michelle Ford crafts it in such a subtle, expressive manner. Her steady hand and confident delivery is evident throughout as she treats the story with passion, urgency and great care. You can tell how much she sympathizes with these characters, and cares deeply for them and their experience.

Another dynamic is the relationship between Renesha and Evan. As the groundwork is being laid, we get to know them and its incredibly sweet. Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill give wonderful performances, especially Hall, to communicate that love and trust and their trying experience. What really struck me was how concerned and passionate Evan was to take care of Renesha in this traumatic time. What at first is extremely sweet, to see Evan spring into action to do what is right is commendable, just as quickly turns into an examination of how the voice of women is so often taken away from them, even by those looking for their best interests. As a man myself, I can’t say whether his call to action is truly brave and commendable, or whether he is stealing this experience from Renesha against her will. We see the continued problems of the day getting to Renesha to the point that she wants Evan to just drop it, and yet Evan continues to press, calling the cops against her wishes to report the sexual assault. She can’t even have control of her experience of this horrible thing, she is stripped of her voice even in her grief.

As far as debut feature films, Test Pattern is incredibly promising. Shatara Michelle Ford has a voice, and this film is proof that she can communicate it in an assured, sharp manner. It’s slight, and perhaps a touch too understated, but the promise is undeniable. What a great example of the fruit yet to be born of the creative independence and freedom of voices that haven’t had a platform for so long in this industry. Maybe Ford will take her success and make a second promising film, and parlay that to enter into the system, making a Marvel movie in 5-10 years, maybe she keeps making smaller, more intimate films like Test Pattern, and maybe she doesn’t have more stories in her, but none of that matters for this movie, which is not an easy watch. Fun, enjoyable, a delight, these are not terms I would use to describe this movie, but it’s great nonetheless, and a movie I would encourage people to seek out to see and hear this story. It deserves it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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