Published Jun 03, 2020We all know the repetitive cycle of social media — the way we scroll through Instagram, not because we're looking for something in particular, but because we become habituated to the cycle of easy movement. This feedback loop is what Canadian indie film Hazy Little Thing is about. It explores the vices we get stuck in that keep us safe, and the toll these bad habits take on others. Ultimately, the film reveals the messy ruins that lie behind the pretty facades we present to others.
The film is a collaborative effort between director Sam Coyle and co-writer/star Erin Carter. Carter plays twentysomething-year-old Billie, who, following the success of her first novel and ahead of her birthday weekend, has cloistered herself in an expansive and fully-furnished house in the middle of the California desert. As she tries to find the plot of her next book in face of high expectations and incessant calls from her agent demanding a first draft, Billie tumbles deeper into depression, spending her days blacking out on gin, monitoring her growing following on Instagram, crying, taking pills, and swimming around in a pool that's too grand for one person.
Billie's older sister Karen (Emily Coutts) arranges a surprise birthday party, inviting Billie's once-close friends: Priya (Supinder Wraich), who brings along her girlfriend River (Dayle McLeod), and Patrick (Jade Hassouné). Karen is aware of Billie's volatile state, but her friends aren't. As the weekend unfolds, each character's personal conflicts, their fraught relationships with Billie, and Billie's relationship with her past are in turn revelled in, tested, and punctured.
The cinematography of Hazy Little Thing, as the title suggests, is as delicate as sunlight through linen. Beautifully shot by Justine Stevens, it evokes the gauzy reveries of Jane Campion's films, but also it's the stuff of minimalist Instagram's dreams. But here, the easily duplicated and endlessly reproduced pink- and burnt-orange-hued aesthetic that many love on social media is turned on its head. Billie langours poolside like an Old Hollywood starlet with her red lips and robes, taking selfies in Lolita-esque sunglasses, all while blackout drunk, captioning them with threats of suicide she doesn't remember when she wakes up. It's the sad, scary, and lonely reality behind the sad-girl aesthetic. Within the sunbaked shadows lurks trauma that Billie tries in vain to keep down with drink.
Like the sequences, the film's score exposes the rot at the centre of Billie's online persona. Starry pop-rock is punctuated by heavy bass that resembles the thrum of a migraine, which oftentimes morphs into the warbled way dialogue sounds when it's heard from underwater. This cleverly mimics physical symptoms of depression, complementing the analogy Billie herself makes to feeling as though she can't reach the surface of a pool that's swallowing her alive.
The film, however, isn't just about Billie. It's also about the impact her actions have on her friends and sister, while also in turn interrogating how they have either abandoned Billie or abetted her self-destructive behaviour. Each of their stories is wonderfully weaved into Billie's. The characters are fleshed out, endearing, sometimes ugly, and ultimately worth loving.
This is a raw film. A story about friendship, depression, Instagram, and psychedelics, Hazy Little Thing is a compelling movie that has us confront the stories we tell ourselves so that we keep scrolling.
The year's Canadian Film Fest airs on Super Channel Fuse. See the schedule here. (Independent)