Content warning: the plot of Clinical deals with self-harm, sexual abuse, and PTSD among psychiatric patients.
In Clinical, a psychiatrist shifts her focus from trauma patients to more everyday concerns after a traumatic incident with a former patient. A young woman attacked her in her office after her treatments did not go as planned. The psychiatrist is making great progress until a trauma patient begs her for help. Giving her time to the new patient is enough to send her own life spiraling into a nightmare of anxiety and hallucinations.
Clinical has the bones of something good. This kind of psychological thriller can either be really effective or really dull. The plot, though predictable, is well-written and does add up to a cohesive whole. It's just not executed well.
We can start with the positive. The practical makeup effects are very good. The psychiatrist deals with trauma patients, and the scars from the injuries are quite realistic. The new patient, in particular, is very effective. He had to have major reconstructive surgery and skin transplants on his face after a major car accident. The results of the surgery are quite believable for what essentially was a degloving injury as shown in flashbacks. The previous patient also harms herself and the psychiatrist with a large shard of glass and the effects are believable. These moments and people feel real.
For some reason, Clinical enters the uncanny valley with a bizarre and totally unnecessary digital filter over the former patient. The character is significantly younger than the actress playing her in flashbacks and the result is unnerving. She looks like a video game character just randomly inserted into the scene with all the blurring and Photoshop to chubby up her cheeks and widen her eyes. It's totally unnecessary--the scenes are dark and the actress looks close enough to a young teen without the effects--and a genuine distraction at the start of the film. You never know which version of the character you're going to see (past or present) and the timeline of events suffers for it.
The screenplay by Luke Harvis and Alistair Legrand feels well-researched. I'm not a psychiatrist and not particularly well-researched in trauma therapy, but I have had cognitive-behavioral therapy and--gorgeous black and white cinematic flashbacks aside--the sessions feel realistic. The patients we see are asked to think back to major events in as much detail as they can. They are pushed to go further with each sessions and then trained in how to respond when the memory causes anxiety or panic. Mind you, counting to four, holding for seven, and exhaling for eight is not the be-all, end-all of therapeutic techniques for anxiety, but it is real and presented well in the film.
With tighter editing and a clearer focus on what kind of film it wants to be, Clinical could have used these more realistic therapy sessions to justify some of the cat-and-mouse absurdity of the thriller elements. The psychiatrist is convinced someone is trying to break into her house, and begins seeing visions of her former patient. The pieces are all there for an effective thriller.
It's just not executed well. Repetition with slight variance is a good start for creating a rhythm to this kind of film. That initial moment, though, needs to feel real. The psychiatrist, a trauma patient herself who was previously attacked by a home intruder, seems all too willing to go ham with a baseball bat on whoever pushed over her recycling bin outside her house. There is no hesitation or forethought. She just goes. She also leaves the doors and windows of her house wide open, locks nothing, and doesn't even always close the door when she reenters the house. Of course there will be cheap scare moments where something has entered--she practically invites them inside.
Every person suffering from mental health problems has their own experience, but I just don't believe someone whose condition evolved from a home invasion scenario and is not doing well would just leave everything unlocked or opened. These scenes would not be hurt by focusing on how the psychiatrist feels in the moment, or spending more time on the decision rather than the action. Having to unlock the door or closing a window she left opened would take seconds and add to the believability. That hesitation is needed to balance out the inevitable moment in this kind of film where there is no more time for pause. The real threat doesn't seem as threatening when every potential threat from the start of the film results in action-hero mode.
Clinical is not a bad film. It's just not as good as it could be with a clearer vision. It is very apparent when there was a clear plan and when there wasn't as much focus on the details. It just varies too much between meticulous and loose storytelling to come together in a fulfilling way.
Clinical is currently streaming on Netflix.
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