Things are going well for Renesha (Brittany S. Hall). She’s found success working in the nonprofit sector, and her relationship with Evan (Will Brill) has lasted long enough that they feel comfortable with one another while still taking time to make each other feel special. She seems content. So does Evan.
Unfortunately for both, this Edenic scenario is just the set-up for a collision of race, gender, and sexual assault in writer/producer/director Shatara Michelle Ford’s Test Pattern—now playing at CU-Boulder’s International Film Series’ virtual theater.
How it happens: Renesha and friend Amber (Gail Bean) head to the club for a celebratory girls’ night out. When they refresh their beverages at the bar, Chris (Ben Levin) and Mike (Drew Fuller) approach—they, too, are celebrating, albeit a little harder. Amber’s game, but Renesha’s not. Peer pressure changes that, and before she knows it, Renesha finds herself in the passenger’s seat with Mike firmly in control.
Ford and cinematographer Ludovica Isidori photograph these scenes like a horror movie: Scarlet reds blaze across the screen with a fuzziness fitting of Renesha’s mental state. Later in the movie, Renesha recalls these fragmented moments like an out-of-body experience. Isidori gives Renesha a ghostly outline as if her self was divided, doubled, and superimposed.
In a way, Test Pattern follows suit. The rape at the heart of the movie drives a wedge through everything, including Renesha and Evan’s relationship. Evan is furious and terrified for Renesha—understandable emotions both, but they severe him from Renesha. Evan’s also white, and Renesha is Black, something that was never an issue before. It wasn’t an issue in the movie’s earlier scenes either, but now it becomes glaringly apparent. Renesha’s assailant was also white. If her and Evan are to have a future, a hurdle that never was now is.
Ford handles all of this deftly, relying on that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach rather than visual pyrotechnics or acterly outbursts. By denying both, Ford denies the audience satisfaction or catharsis. If she did, viewers might finish Test Pattern and move on with their lives. That’s not what Ford wants.
Test Pattern (2019)
Written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford
Produced by Shatara Michelle Ford, Pin-Chun Liu, Yu-Hao Su
Starring: Brittany S. Hall, Will Brill, Gail Bean, Drew Fuller, Ben Levin, Amani Starnes, Caroline Bloom
Kino Lorber, Not rated, Running time 82 minutes, Opens Feb. 26, 2021