There are potential spoilers in this review of Consent, so please read with caution.
We've all had one event in our lives that completely rocked our world. For me, it was probably my grandmother's early and sudden death. Things changed after that. I got angry. I got bitter. I was 13 and didn't understand why someone so close to me had to die, especially in the way she did. And I acted out in ways that changed me as a person. I'd like to think it was the crossover from being a child to becoming an adolescent for me, and thankfully, the anger, bitterness and hurt didn't affect me forever. But in the interim, I went through some dark times that were revisited again in my early 20s, and again now, at age 30. I don't think you ever forget the first death that affects you. It re-affects you as you're exposed to subsequent deaths.
That's basically the premise of Consent, an indie film directed by Ron Farrar Brown and starring Peter Vack and Troian Bellisario. I'm a fan of off-the-cuff, non-mainstream movies, so I decided to give this one a try. I wasn't disappointed. The entire cast worked together to paint a picture of pain, discomfort, taboo subjects and the beauty within the moments between them.
Consent begins with the family visiting the grave of their oldest daughter, Samantha (played by Betsey Brown), who committed suicide a few years before. It's unclear at first whether the family still has three children, as Samantha appears as a hallucination to the oldest son, Josh. The three teens fall upon Samantha's grave, laughing inappropriately, which sets the scene for the entire movie. Nothing about this family is normal, and nothing about their grief is, either.
High school senior Josh (played by Peter Vack) is trying to hold himself together while looking after his baby sister, Amanda (played by Troian Bellisario). Josh sees his oldest sister Samantha everywhere, and his grief is palpable in the fact that he can't let her go. She gives him advice on how to deal with everything, most specifically Amanda, a junior in high school, who is spiraling down a dangerous path with an abusive boyfriend. She's reckless and uncaring, and the relationship Josh has with his little sister is one of a close, overprotective brother. They seem a little too close, really, and that's one of the biggest problems -- they are too close to be objective to their situations or to the growing discomfort of their sexuality.
Amanda desperately wants to be loved. I really related to her because I spent my entire time in high school wanting to be loved. I was a closeted bisexual trying to figure out why I liked girls as well as boys and I went through a lot of confusion, anger and hurt. Having just come out of being bullied as a child, I had a low sense of self-worth, and so does Amanda. She chooses one dangerous and questionable situation after another, each time turning to the one constant in her life -- her brother. In fact, he's so constant in his love and protection that the movie takes an uncomfortable and unexpected turn into incest. There's so much pain here, it's like rubbing ground glass on your skin. Everyone comes away bloody and sore, and no one is improved by the experience. But it's beautiful in a way -- the pure desperation on the part of both characters is representative of the high school experience and also of the experience of being traumatized. You can't heal without going through pain, and these characters cross through several rings of fire to discover more about themselves and what this tragedy has done to them.
Perhaps the most interesting dynamic in the movie is between the parents, who are so wrapped up in their grief that they've stopped paying attention to their remaining children. Their mother, lost in a haze of alcohol and anger, is the reflection of Amanda thirty years down the road. Trapped in a life and hell she didn't choose and doesn't want, she ends up completely ignoring her children and engaging in reckless behavior that renders her non-functional. Their father is so far removed from the situation in his own grief and anger at his wife that he, too, can't patch the growing rift in his family and turns to domestic abuse. The cast and crew have said that the movie title, Consent, doesn't refer to consent in a traditional sense -- rather, it's about the unspoken consent the parents have given themselves to ignore their children and wrap themselves up in a tragedy that's taken over their entire lives.
Due to several abuse-related situations in the movie, it's taken me this long to write this review because I needed to process it. It's uncomfortable and triggering. The pain portrayed by the actors is so real that you wonder how long it took them to be able to process the story themselves. But the performances are so good -- the cast throwing themselves into their parts -- that it's not a voyeur-like movie where you sit and watch a family fall apart. You're part of it. You're there when Samantha talks to Josh, who longs to escape the hell he lives in but doesn't know how. You're there when Amanda, bruised and aching, turns to her brother in a fit of desperate passion, longing for someone to tell her she's special. And you're there when the parents, cold to each other and wrapped up in their pain, turn on each other, blaming themselves and knowing their inattentiveness partly caused their oldest child's death.
It's not a movie that's feel-good in any sense of the word, but it is a movie that will stay with you. It explores the beauty in forbidden moments. It shows that gilded cages still hold ugly things. And its sweeping cinematography reminds you that there's moments of peace in the madness -- that the reason that the rest of the family hasn't killed themselves is because they recognize eventually, it has to get better. They're striving for better, which is what keeps you watching this movie. You just want to see them come out of the darkness.
As someone who's walked through a lot of darkness, perhaps the reason I related so much to this movie is because I understand the need to wait for the lifeboats, too. I didn't choose recklessness, but I chose other self-injury. You deal with it until you can't. This is the breakdown of that.
You can find Consent on iTunes, Google Play, Hulu, and Amazon. I bought the movie for $12.99 on iTunes, but you can rent it for $5.99. Despite its themes, it's compelling, and it's a movie you won't forget.