Fantastic Fest 2017: ‘Blue My Mind’ Reveals The Horror In Growth

by Emmet Duff
Published: Last Updated on

Puberty, especially one’s sudden entry into the menstrual cycle, is a real-world transformation that lends itself excellently to supernatural horror. Beyond the physical trauma of change, aging into sexual maturity comes loaded with tremendous social burden, and as the slow march of filmic democratization continues, stories covering the unique trauma of growing up as a woman are becoming more common. Often these stories indulge in a conceit, and allow the film to follow the logic therein, abandoning sincere realism. With Blue My Mind, somehow a graduation film, writer and director Lisa Brühlmann instead crafts a coming-of-age tale steeped in vivid realism to the end, and spruces it up with some symbolic body horror.

Mia (Luna Wedler, astonishing) shows up to a new school in the middle of the year. She’s on the cusp of 16, and her parents have moved her to a new town. She knows what to do, as she’s likely done this before, and at the end of class immediately approaches the cool girls, led by Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen), and asks for a light. They reproach her obvious bid for inclusion, but after weathering a bit of abuse she wins them over. Meanwhile, she has her first period, and driven by unshakable compulsion, eats one of her mother’s pet fish live. The movie tracks her developing friendships, as well as her transforming body, and the strain each places on her family relationships and integrity.

Blue My Mind tends more towards Thirteen than Ginger Snaps. Brühlmann prioritizes Mia’s relationships and struggle to fit in above all else, and the result is a film of bracing honesty. It is a rare work that can so vividly portray the social and emotional perils — as well as concurrent elation — of life as a 15-year-old girl. The mystery of why Mia has developed strange discoloration on her legs is never close to as important as how concealing her legs frays her mental composure and strains her relationship with her parents (both of whom are distant and punitive). Her strange compulsions are interesting, but what is more interesting is the way that she tries to repress those compulsions by chasing experiential peaks. This is an intimate and frightening look at the struggles of coming of age, and outside of Mia’s singular transformation, Brühlmann strictly adheres to grounded emotional realism.

This approach has some shortcomings. As a film intimately attached to the erratic whims of an hormonal teenager, the pacing could have been more even. More traditional body-horror films cultivate an environment of steadily mounting dread that is for the most part missing here. From an emotional perspective, it works well, as Mia attempts to casually repress thoughts of encroaching death or disease, but a bit of well-spun tension might have helped raise the stakes. As it stands, Blue My Mind feels fitfully dangerous, spending the rest of the time daydreaming at Mia’s side.

The most unnerving passages revolve around Mia’s unchained inhibitions. A segment where she drinks, does drugs, and seduces older men as the camera slouches along next to her is as frightening as any spooky effects. The tangible tension between her and her parents as they try desperately to reconnect, realizing only now that they have lost control, is only relieved slightly by the heartbreak it evinces. This may all sound like a dirge, but a thread of youthful optimism carries the film along, making it far easier to embrace. Blue My Mind is about transformation, and it is always clear that Mia’s disassociation and anger is the natural fear response to massive change. Ultimately, growing up requires change, and Brühlmann understands that the act of change is never easy — it’s in fact the stuff of horror. Those looking for grotesque thrills may leave disappointed, but those open to a honest portrait of growth may well have their minds blown.

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