Test Pattern is a heavy, riveting story that covers sexual assault and the horrible aftermath that follows. Racial prejudice, relationships, gender roles, victim-blaming, and the health care system all go under the microscope of Shatara Michelle Ford’s writing and directorial feature debut when a Black woman is sexually assaulted and her White boyfriend drives her from hospital to hospital in search of a rape kit. By the end, you are left heartbroken, angry, and ready to fight for change.
Ford’s directorial brilliance is clear in the way these themes are shared. There is no “in-your-face-moment” of laying out facts, figures, and research gathered. It is told through pathos, appealing to the emotions of the audience through the incredibly moving performances of Brittany S. Hall (Renesha) and Will Brill (Evan). Through Hall’s performance, we see the complex and destructive power sexual assault has. It’s not monotone or unidimensional. There is an entire range of emotions indicative of someone who has suffered assault: guilt, shame, anger, fear, sadness, hopelessness, and despondency. Hall does a commendable job of bringing all these facets of Renesha’s pain to life. Brill is a wonderful example of a frustrated supportive partner, unsure of what to do and angry that there is nothing they can do to fix the situation. I very much look forward to future performances from these two.
My favorite thing about Renesha and Evan is that their characters appear to be an unlikely couple. She is a type A businesswoman and he is a laid-back tattoo man. Their delightfully adorable chemistry makes any preconceived notions about a pair that “looks right” together fade away and all we see is two people that are in love, PERFECT for each other, and set the standard of a healthy relationship.
I mentioned that Test Pattern explores pressure, fear, victim-blaming, and the absolutely shameful state of women’s healthcare. Rape kits are available in the sense that they exist, but women accessing these kits are an entirely different story. There are strict regulations that must be adhered to, and many hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices can’t (or won’t) adhere to them. And if a woman is lucky enough to get access to a rape kit, the chance that she will be administered one with the compassion and tenderness deserved sans victim-blaming is slim. Test Pattern tackles this systemic problem head-on, eyes wide open, and teeth bared.
The cinematography in this film enhances the representation of emotions. Test Pattern is gritty in an internally violent way. Renesha and Evan each face so many internal battles that the only true moments of peace and happiness are in flashback memories. Flashbacks of rape colorized with red overtones was a very powerful choice. It was a violent and visceral way to represent rape recall for women and cinematically speaking it was strong. When Renesha was drugged, the shots take on a disorienting and dizzying feeling, and the audience can connect with Renesha even further. Seeing the world through her blurred vision, making the scenes in which she is taken advantage of even more powerful.
My only complaint with Test Pattern is the sequence in the hospital with Evan and Raynesha’s actions slowed down and put to classical music. The scene was so long and the scene itself was not dynamic enough to justify slowing it down for as long as it was. The steady pace and momentum gathered throughout the movie began to fade away at this point, but thanks to Ford’s gripping story, as soon as the slow-mo ended, the film picked right back up and never stopped.
Overall Test Pattern is a powerful film with a powerful message. The ending is not cookie cutter and it shouldn’t be. This is a real-world problem affecting real people every day. Thank you to director Shatara Michelle Ford for creating a film that has something to say, and that needs to be heard. I look forward to hearing what else Ford has to say in the future!
7 out of 10