Rule Number One: Everyone must play.
Rule Number Two: No outsiders allowed.
Rule Number Three: Nobody Leaves.
These three ominous statements set the tone for Mitzi Peirone’s debut film Braid, a recently released thriller that follows the twisted, interwoven tale of three childhood best friends. When two of the girls, Tilda and Petula, run into trouble with the law, they make a drastic decision to head to the decrepit mansion that their third counterpart, Daphne (who many will recognize as Janine, from the popular Hulu show The Handmaid’s Tale) resides in. What seems a simple premise at first—get into the house and steal Daphne’s fortune—quickly becomes foreboding as the action unfolds.
What becomes apparent from the second us viewers step inside the house, is that Daphne is not normal. Stuck in a fantasy game that the girls played when they were young, she believes that everything that occurs around her is still a part of that game, with the rules mentioned at the beginning of the article existing as the backbone to her imaginary world. And thus, the tense dynamics are revealed. Daphne takes on the role of “Mother,” with Tilda stepping into the role of petulant “Daughter,” and Petula as the “Doctor.” Tilda and Petula work to play along just long enough to find Daphne’s hidden fortune. What follows is a rapid back-and-forth thriller that escalates in absurdity and tension with every passing moment. There’s a particular moment where Tilda discovers the punishment for breaking “Mother’s” rules that I don’t think I’ll be able to forget as long as I live.
Aided by flashbacks of the girls’ childhood, we not only learn why Daphne is stuck in a never-ending loop of her favorite childhood game, but the events that drive the two other tortured girls to partake in the game. While I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that it’s one of the most shocking, surprising twists I’ve seen in a thriller in many years; it’s a testament to Peirone’s prowess as a fresh, talented filmmaker breaking her way into the cinematic world. I was awestruck by the techniques she used that felt as though they were chosen by the likes of experienced, well-known filmmakers. From dreamy color schemes during flashbacks of bygone carefree days, to succinct, off-putting dialogue that made goosebumps erupt on my skin, there’s no convention that’s ignored in the quest to drive home every aspect of this distorted story. I’ve said it before to friends, and I’ll say it again here: nobody does thrillers and horror films quite like women, and I’m happy to say that this is yet another movie that makes me proud of the strides that marginalized groups are making within the industry.
Braid is not only an introspective look into trauma, but an analysis of the strong bonds formed between girls in childhood. Its apt title describes the interconnected relationship of the girls and lends an idea to the twisted story that lurks just beyond the film’s exposition. Tense, calculated, and packing numerous punches, Braid is a thriller that I can’t recommend enough for those interested in female-centric films, perverse characters, and stories that break the creative mold.
Illustration by Margo Craig