Smartly scripted and puzzle-box intricate, Ultrasound is one of the most complex and mind-boggling movies to play at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. After he runs over a set of carefully-laid nails in the road, Glen (Angel, Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser) takes refuge at the home of a strange married couple. With his tires popped and his car broken down (and the closest hotel about 40 miles away!) Art (Bob Stephenson) and Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez) invite Glen to stay the night.
Art and Cyndi heavily lubricate Glen with drinks, with Art insisting they rarely get visitors. This is when things get weird—Art says he’ll be sleeping on the couch, and nudges Glen to go sleep with his wife in the bedroom. Glen is initially reluctant to the idea, but Cyndi welcomes him into her bed. “It’s been awhile,” she says; “it’s been awhile for me, too,” Glen replies before they become intimate. The next morning, Glen awakens to an abandoned home, and promptly leaves—this is all before the title art flashes onto the screen.
Glen and Cyndi’s fateful night together is the jumping off point for the rest of the action. Art shows up on Glen’s doorstep claiming that Cyndi is now pregnant with his child from their one time together. Two separate stories begin to happen concurrently, and all three of them eventually connect: Shannon (Mr. Mercedes standout Breeda Wool) works at a research facility specializing in a sustained state of hypnotic suggestion to influence the mind and will of others run by Dr. Conners (Tunde Adebimpe); Katie (Rainey Qualley) is having an affair with a wealthy politician (Chris Gartin) whose career would be demolished if word of their involvement and her pregnancy ever got out.
Through use of sound and trippy visuals, Ultrasound carefully unfurls vital details and shocking reveals as it propels towards an intense—but too brief—finale. From the very beginning, director Rob Schroeder sets this up like a horror movie, and constantly gear-shifts into other genres. The ensemble, especially Breeda Wool’s Shannon and Vincent Kartheiser’s Glen, further add to the sense of confusion and uncertainty around the central story. Shannon ends up being an important character with a concise arc that allows Wool to unleash a variety of different layers to her performance.
The various twists and turns will keep you on your toes. I know the script from Conor Stechschulte had me entirely engrossed in the mystery. Just when I thought I had things figured out, Ultrasound takes a hard left turn. The plot connections and explosive conclusion are satisfyingly tight—I can only imagine that subsequent viewings will strengthen the framework of this sci-fi mystery treat.
Ultrasound screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival, June 15th.