‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things” perfectly uncanny

‘Im Thinking of Ending Things” perfectly uncanny

McKenna Slaughter, Staff Writer

When I sat down to watch Netflix’s newest film, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” it was with anticipation and excitement, but also skepticism. An adaptation of a 2016 novel by Iain Reid, the story follows a woman, Lucy, and her boyfriend, Jake, through a snowy car ride to meet his parents for the first time. Things take a sinister turn nearly instantly, resulting in a chilling film that offers more questions than answers, and won’t leave your mind for days after its credits roll.

Director Charlie Kaufman’s style is perfectly suited for a film of this type. With movies such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Anomalisa” under his belt, he is no stranger to movies with a strange tone and bizarre subject material. This film feels like every unnerving movie I’ve seen dialed up to 100. The tension is palpable, with dialogue feeling stilted and off, like the characters are responding to slightly different questions than those asked. The main character’s clothing subtly changes, as does her voice. This all piles up to create a feeling that something is deeply wrong, even if you’re not sure what it is yet.

This effect is only aided by the cast’s stellar performances. Jessie Buckly (Lucy) and Jesse Plemons (Jake) have a strange chemistry, stilted and inorganic, but in a very intentional way. It feels as though these two are in a decent relationship, you’re just seeing the not-so-nice parts of it as Lucy toils over her desire to break things off. Additionally, Toni Collette (“Mother”) is a veteran of the thriller, horror and mystery genres (“Hereditary,” “The Sixth Sense,” “Knives Out”), and she does not disappoint. Her performance here is unnerving and real, grounded enough to feel like someone you could meet and yet ever so slightly off. As she says, “I’d lose my head if it weren’t screwed on to my own head.”

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a movie in love with its colors. Warm, light and eclectic decorations are used to create a house that’s almost a character in and of itself. The car ride is cold and devoid of life, making the characters feel distant from each other and the viewer. The costumes are wonderful storytelling at work, with Lucy wearing an eccentric outfit — an oversized striped sweater over a floral dress — which makes it even stranger when it subtly changes over the course of the film. Additionally, the cinematography is incredible. The camera shifts from floating over and around its characters to hard cuts from one to the other effortlessly, sometimes in places that feel incorrect, further adding to the uneasy tone. The occasional shots where characters look directly into the camera, breaking down the barrier between fiction and its observers, still make me uneasy to think about.

This movie is more about fear than about making you feel afraid, remaining unsettling without becoming a thriller in the way its book does. There are certainly times where my heart raced, but I was mostly left questioning just what everything meant, and why, and feeling a sort of existential dread from its central themes, rather than being genuinely afraid. 

This film does take its time at the beginning. The first minutes can seem to drone on for far longer than necessary, in a way that won’t make much sense until you get an idea of what’s actually going on. Pushing through the initial car scene is a bit of a chore, but it’s absolutely worth it for what follows. The rest of the runtime is a bit slow as well, but it feels significantly more intentional, and significantly less boring.

Whatever you’re expecting to happen here, that’s not what happens. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is a movie that subverts expectations without pulling a nonsensical explanation from left field. Some thinking is required to feel like you fully “get” its ending, but that creates a movie that leaves you guessing the whole time, constantly piecing together new information from little clues, most of which make even more sense in retrospect. Everything odd here has an explanation, the movie just challenges you to figure out exactly what that explanation is.