MOVIE OF THE WEEK February 25, 2021: TEST PATTERN
Heartbreaking and infuriating in its authentic portrayal of a woman left reeling after being raped, Shatara Michelle Ford’s Test Pattern makes it crystal clear just how stacked the system often is against the victims of sexual assault. Between endless bureaucracy and condescending skepticism, it’s no wonder so many women don’t even bother pursuing justice for these horrible crimes.
Brittany S. Hall stars as Ranesha, a well-established woman with a good job, great friends, and — as of recently — a loving, respectful relationship with tattoo artist Evan (Will Brill). But everything changes after Ranesha goes out for the evening with BFF Amber (Gail Bean) and becomes the target of overconfident entrepreneur Mike (Drew Fuller). Even though she tells him about Evan, he won’t let up, and when she eventually needs a ride home, he instead takes her to his place and forces himself on her while she’s too altered to stop him. (It’s like watching the set-up scenarios in Promising Young Woman playing out exactly the way the men in that movie hoped they would…you’ll find yourself wishing that Carey Mulligan would swoop in and save the day.)
Bewildered, heartbroken, and ashamed (though the fault is entirely Mike’s), Ranesha makes it home the next morning, where a worried Evan is relieved — and then determined to help her report what happened. So they head to the local hospital for a rape kit, only to be given the runaround and told to go elsewhere. As they go from facility to facility seeking care, they experience frustration at long delays, anger at dismissive and unhelpful medical staff, and impatience with each other. Underlying everything is the clear implication that Ranesha isn’t being prioritized because she’s a Black woman, and therefore White authority figures are far less likely to take her seriously.
There are no easy answers for Ranesha and Evan in Test Pattern — which, along with Hall and Brill’s convincing performances, makes it all the more realistically painful. Ford, in her feature debut, effectively captures the excruciating impact of rape on both victims and their loved ones, especially when righteous anger hits a solid wall, and all you can do is try to keep moving forward — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Leslie Combemale This country is way behind the times in terms of properly dealing with the continued epidemic of sexual assault, and writer/director Shatara Michelle Ford’s Test Pattern, which is well-acted, painfully believable, and sadly, all too timely, shines a bright light on what many couples go through when faced with this kind of trauma. They go down a black hole of red tape and disorganized governmental rules until they finally find a trained nurse and a sympathetic ear, but the turmoil of a rape’s aftermath proves potentially fatal to their relationship. A dark watch, but a worthy one.
Nell Minow: Writer/director Shatara Michelle Ford tells us her characters’ story with all of the sympathy that they are unable to find from health care professionals or the criminal justice system. Renesha, played with touching delicacy by Brittany S. Hall, is more devastated by the unfeeling cruelty of both systems than by the assault, and Ford shows us how not being heard or defended corrodes not just the survivor’s soul but her personal and professional relationships.
Pam Grady: When shy Evan (Will Brill) approaches poised Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) for her number in an Austin bar, it is a meet-cute moment that suggests a warm, interracial romantic drama is about to unfold. And it does, percolating on the charms of its delightful lead performers and their delicious chemistry. But then first-time writer-director Shatara Michelle Ford subverts audience expectations. There is a lot to unpack as a crime upends the couple’s home life. Ford limns not just a bomb thrown into their relationship but also how law enforcement and the medical establishment fail victims (and especially victims of color). There is also the issue of agency as Evan, in his zeal for justice, never stops to consider or ask Renesha what she wants or needs at the very moment when that should be his primary concern. Test Pattern marks an impressive debut for Ford, creating a resonant, timely drama that packs an emotional wallop.
MaryAnn Johanson This very assured feature debut from writer-director Shatara Michelle Ford is yet another very welcome example of just one of the reasons why we need more female filmmakers telling women’s stories: to draw back the curtain our culture has been keeping firmly in place about the realities of women’s lives. Sensitively but directly, Ford depicts the depressingly quotidian nature of violence against women and the very firm lack of interest our society has in dealing with it. A few friendly and supportive faces aside, her heroine is very much on her own in the aftermath of rape, with little hope of any justice. And all on just another Monday.
Jennifer Merin Test Pattern, writer/director Shatara Michelle Ford’s compelling first feature, stars Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill as a loving couple whose wellbeing and relationship are undone when she is raped. Their painful emotional challenges deepen when they set out to seek justice and find that the system is remarkably, unacceptably disinterested in her case. They are bounced from one hospital to another in search of a rape kit, and the police are infuriatingly blase about the case. That the chemistry between the two stars is palpable and Ford presents their heartbreaking story with such remarkable authenticity makes this beautifully crafted first feature an important and timely consideration of rape culture and how it impacts women’s lives.
Sandie Angulo Chen: Writer-director Shatara Michelle Ford’s debut film Test Patterns is a thought-provoking exploration of intersectional identity and rape culture in the United States. When Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) is sexually assaulted after a girls’ night out, she wakes up groggy and confused, but certain something happened to her. The rest of the film is a chronicle of how Renesha, who’s Black, spends the next morning with her loving, supportive, and White boyfriend Evan (Will Brill) driving around from hospital to hospital in an attempt to get treated with a rape kit. Ford shows how the medical establishment fails Renesha again and again, and how the complicated situation is impacted by race, sexism, and professional indifference from the professionals who are supposed to help and do no harm. This is a timely and powerful film.
Marina Antunes While rape tends to be this intimate thing that victims work their way through, sometimes with the help of friends and family, it’s not often that you see how the trauma ripples through a relationship. Shatara Michelle Ford’s Test Pattern opens with the start of an unlikely relationship between Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill). The pair’s relationship doesn’t start off on the right foot but after their first date, there’s immediate chemistry and through a series of vignettes, we see that relationship grow and evolve and then it’s tested when Renesha comes home from a girl’s night out, not remembering what happened but knowing she woke up in a strange man’s bed. What unfolds after that event is heartbreaking as we follow the couple as they drive from hospital to hospital in search of a rape kit and someone who can administer it and still later, how the entire thing comes to a disappointing close. Through it all, Evan is there, quietly supportive. If only we could all have that.
Cate Marquis Test Pattern begins as a sweet love story about a couple, Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill), that takes a dark turn after the woman is raped, transforming the film into a damning expose of how both medical institutions and the police deal with rape. Director Shatara Michelle Ford builds an appealing relationship between the pair, one that is challenged after Renesha is drugged and then sexually assaulted during a girls’ night out with a friend to celebrate Renesha’s new dream job. Renesha is barely functional when she finally makes it home after the assault, where her caring boyfriend Evan quickly realizes what has happened and takes her straight to the hospital. But there they are launched on a strange journey, as they are bounced from facility to facility, having to repeat their request for a rape kit, and encountering a system filled with both indifference and confusion. It is a harsh commentary on a system where the trauma of rape is largely treated with callous indifference.
Title: Test Pattern
Directors: Shatara Michelle Ford
Release Date: February 25, 2021
Running Time: 82 minutes
Screenwriter: Shatara Michelle Ford
Principal Cast: Brittany S. Hall, Will Brill
Distribution Company: Kino Lorber
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
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Edited by Jennifer Merin