Director Shatara Michelle Ford makes a commendable debut with the feature Test Pattern from Kino Lorber. Part psychological horror, part realist drama, Test Pattern unfolds against the backdrop of national discussions around inequitable health care and policing, the #MeToo movement, and race in America.
The film follows an interracial couple whose rock-solid relationship is put to the test when Renesha, a Black woman played by Brittany S. Hall, is sexually assaulted. Her white boyfriend Evan (Will Brill) insistently pursues a rape kit and is met with medical and administrative incompetence at every turn. The film analyzes the effects of the systemic factors and social conditioning women face when navigating sex and consent within the American patriarchy and exploring institutional racism from a Black female point of view.
Test Pattern opens up with an intimate moment between Renesha and Evan before taking us back to their first meeting. Evan is an awkward, shy guy approaching a woman he thinks is out of his league. I instantly respected that Shatara Michelle Ford's script does put the interracial aspect as an issue. Evan and Renesha become a couple, and even from their first date, it's clear the two like each other. As our leads, Will Brill and Brittany S. Hall have great chemistry. I liked that the script showcases Renesha as a working woman, while Evan is more of the artist.
The setup that leads to Renesha's assault happens organically. Renesha decides to have a girl's night with her friend Amber (Gail Bean). While Renesha is hesitant to go, Will, as an understanding boyfriend, inspires her to go and enjoy herself. I felt that Shatara Michelle Ford wanted to set up that date rape can happen to anyone.
Drew Fuller portrays Mike, the rapist, and Ford paints Mike as a seemingly nice guy who just signed a huge business deal. Before long, Mike starts to give off predatory vibes that the audience sees. While we never view the rape happen, Shatara Michelle Ford shows the aftermath, and Brittany S. Hall gives her all in the performance.
Going on the journey with Evan and Renesha is sometimes tough to watch. Still, it's a necessary film. Clocking in under ninety minutes, Test Patten moves along thanks to cinematographer Ludovica Isidori who paints a glorious picture of Austin, Texas. Shatara Michelle Ford is a capable first-time director who draws out solid acting from her cast.
I look forward to seeing what she will do with a bigger budget and recommended her first film.
Final Grade: B+
Test Pattern is currently available in virtual cinemas