Disappointing mix of time-loop sci-fi and toxic relationship drama
Jagged Mind, now available to stream on Hulu, is a remarkably fun film…until it isn’t!
Deploying the familiar yet contrived time loop trope, Jagged Mind devises a set of unique rules that its cinematic concept works on. But beneath all the fragile mysteries and freight character development, the film’s core identity rests in the corruptable power of love and toxicity in modern dating. Both these things are smartly hidden to give you the impression of a zany, twisty queer horror experience with supernatural tendencies. But ultimately, Jagged Mind’s messaging is its real problem as it fails to convince the viewer of its own seriousness.
It would be difficult to establish a summary of the plot without giving too much away. Just know that our protagonist’s name is Billie and she experiences a series of time loops with no memories of them. What she construes as a hereditary mental illness turns out to be a dark secret from the nether world of local culture. That should be enough to draw you into watching Jagged Mind, as it did for me, but you may be left disappointed.
For once, a film using the time loop trope takes its own sweet time to establish the rules of the system. Numerous films in the recent past, such as Meet Cute and Happy Death Day, have not hesitated to give up their uniqueness at the first instance. After the revelation, these films became comfortingly familiar as they respected the conventions of storytelling, plot, and narrative, that the genre is known for. Jagged Mind is different, however. The film keeps its cards very close to its chest with the system of the time loop under strict supervision for most of the film. It is only in the third act that we see an unravelling of the truth, which happens unspectacularly.
This creative choice allows director Kelley Kali, the inspiring creative mind behind I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking), much better control over her film. But what is that control worth in the end? Regrettably, not a lot. The problem I have with Jagged Mind is its explanation of the time loop mystery. Such is its nature that the polarization of viewers is an assured outcome. You will either love it or absolutely hate it and feel betrayed by writer Allyson Morgan.
By the end of the third act, Jagged Mind almost takes a different narrative direction into dark humour territory. The hesitance on the part of the creators is quite clear because the said elements are not brought to life with conviction. The visual evidence is towering enough to suggest that the creators weren’t sure of what to make of the situation themselves.
Despite being a Hulu film, Jagged Mind feels like a Showtime/Lifetime offering. No offence to both platforms which have been consistent in providing us with level-headed goody-good melodrama, but the dramatic element of their stories is rather vanilla.
Jagged Mind cannot escape that supposition. This disappointing effort has too many loose ends and lacks professionalism. The execution is uneven and odd-footed, which isn’t to say the people involved in the project lacked effort or commitment. It just doesn’t materialize the way we might expect it to after the first 15 minutes.
On the positive side, Shannon Woodward (Alex) and Maisie Richardson-Sellers (Billie) are quite sublime both together and individually. Their performances elevate the film to a watchable level where you don’t feel as if you’re forced to pull your hair out in frustration!
Woodward especially has the difficult task of handling a very dark character with little regard for human decency. She relishes the opportunity to embody an objectively evil avatar, who is by no means less treacherous than Satan himself, and she is relentless in how far she can dial up the diabolical undertones.
There is the suggestion in the film that Billie could become a person like Alex. That is the most compelling aspect of Jagged Mind – its take on the underlying notions of love and toxicity. The lines between the two, which are not that hard to miss by the way, are blurred to the extent that love becomes physically harmful for our protagonist.
There is certainly sophistication in how Kali and Morgan present their hardened take on the corruptibility of love and what it can make the wielder do. I guess that universal aspect stems from our insecurities in relationships and how we navigate them. This is what might make this film appealing to some people, especially if the central story reminds them of a gaslighting ex who was never supposed to be “the one.”
Verdict - 5/10