Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A disturbing coercive control drama about one seriously twisted romance, You Mean Everything to Me explores the dark side of love. Down on her luck, freshly kicked out of her sister’s house and living out of her car, Cassandra (Morgan Saylor) is about to meet someone who will change her life forever. Enter: Nathan (Ben Rosenfield), a charming and intense local DJ. He instantly tries to show Cassandra his music, offering to fix up her car and give her a new stereo free of charge. Nathan invites Cassandra over, and they have sex on the first night. Things seem to be going swimmingly until Nathan shows up at Cassandra’s job with flowers. Urging her to leave work behind (“you’re better than this!”), Nathan’s grip over Cassandra becomes tighter, offering her a place to stay. The manipulations and gaslighting are enough to make one’s stomach turn.

Before Cassandra really has time to digest what is happening to her, Nathan has locked her out from her family, pushed her into accepting a job as a “girl” at the club he DJs for, and forced her into drunken sex with strangers. Both Saylor and Rosenfield get the audience emotionally invested in these complicated characters. In Mark, Mary & Some Other People, Rosenfield uses his charisma to form one half of an endearingly flawed newlywed couple. Here, Nathan is a decidedly different character, a conniving leech whose surface does not reveal the danger underneath. For her part, Saylor’s Cassandra is a naive and frustrating character to follow at first. Her determination and realizations about where she had ended up are tragic and upsetting.

If I had any issues, it would be that it You Mean Everything to Me feels like it is missing a climax. This does not distract from how compelling the rest of the film remains. That writer/director Bryan Wizemann was inspired by a girl he was close with in Las Vegas comes as little surprise. The coercion into prostitution and the sex trade through subtle manipulation is highly disturbing and believable. Thousands of sex trafficking cases occur in the United States every year, echoing a horrifying reality. Obviously, You Mean Everything to Me is only one way this can happen. Never judge a book by its cover—sometimes the most adorable faces can hide sinister, abusive intent.

You Mean Everything to Me gaslights audiences as it opens at NYC’s Cinema Village theatre on Friday, December 17th. 

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