Netflix has committed to expanding their original content platform, and its has resulted in films as diverse as the dramatic The Fundamentals of Caring, mockumentary Mascots, biopic Barry and teen caper Coin Heist. With CLINICAL, the streaming platform follows up the success of horror I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House with another thriller.
Psychiatrist Jane Mathis (Vinessa Shaw) is brutally attacked by patient Nora (India Eisley) and seriously wounded. On a path to recovery with her own therapist (William Atherton), Jane decides to take on new trauma patient Alex (Kevin Rahm), a man horribly scarred in an accident. As Jane begins to help him, her own life starts to spiral out of control as the past catches up with her.
For the most part, CLINICAL is a measured psychological thriller that carefully chooses its moments of revelation. In the first act, Luke Harvis and Alistair Legrand’s script is all about the horror of the internal mind, as Jane continues to see flashes of Nora in waking and sleeping hours. Director Legrand points his camera at oblique angles, with an unsettling use of wide/fisheye lenses during therapy sessions with Alex.
As Legrand transitions into the final act, the surprises are genuine and numerous, with a jarring change of pace and some comically surreal moments peppering the film’s last third. Unfortunately, it’s also here that the film falls back on the expected, a game of cat and mouse that feels caught between something of the mind and a run-of-the-mill slasher. In fact, it’s fair to say there’s a literal face-off between the two leads, as some silly gore undoes much of the good faith CLINICAL had built up until that point.
Central to the premise of CLINICAL is the notion of the confrontation technique, a psychiatric approach that involves challenging a person and forcing them to incorporate uncomfortable elements into their being. The film treats the audience a little like this, drilling us with shocks in the first half before leaving us to accept the inevitable.