Horse Girl is a 2020 psychological drama film directed and co-produced by Jeff Baena from a screenplay co-written by him and Alison Brie, who stars in the filmnote . Debby Ryan, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, John Ortiz, and Paul Reiser also feature in supporting roles.
Sarah (Brie) is a quiet, mild-mannered craft store employee with a love of horses. She's a little lonely, and struggles to make friends, but keeps herself busy with arts and crafts while obsessively watching the fantasy TV series Purgatory, visiting her horse Willow—who she no longer rides—and hanging out with her roommate Nikki (Ryan), co-worker friend Joan (Shannon), and disabled childhood friend Heather (Meredith Hagner).
After an unexpected birthday party, Sarah meets a new boyfriend, Darren (Reynolds), and things seem to be looking up. However, not all is well. Sarah is haunted by strange dreams that seem real, and periods of missing time, where she finds herself in places without any memory of going there. The film focuses on Sarah's attempts to hold on to reality and discover the truth of what's going on as things become increasingly unhinged.
The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 27, 2020. It was then released on February 7, 2020 by Netflix.
Tropes present in Horse Girl:
- Agent Mulder: Early on, Sarah googles reasons for her missing memories. Two options come up: it could be carbon monoxide poisoning, or alien abduction. Sarah immediately dismisses the first option because it doesn't feel right, and seizes upon the more fantastic second option.
- Alien Abduction: Sarah comes to believe that her missing memories, the mysterious scratches appearing around her, and her dreams about lying in a white room are evidence of her being abducted by aliens. The film ends with the aliens apparently beaming her up for good.
- Ambiguous Ending: After being discharged from the hospital, Sarah reaches a state of clarity, perhaps about being literally a time-traveled version of her grandmother, and enters a state of resolve, though her goal is not quite clear. The film ends with Sarah being beamed into space, and doesn't resolve the question of what if anything was real. This could be interpreted as Sarah time travelling into the past, being abducted by aliens once again, or a metaphorical depiction of her suicide, but the film doesn't give clear answers.
- Ambiguously Bi: Sarah makes an uncommitted attempt to flirt with her Zamba instructor.
- Amnesiac Hero: Sarah, the protagonist, suffers from periods of time where she remembers nothing that happened, and she often finds herself in strange places with no memory of how she got there.
- Ancient Astronauts: Discussed. Darren brings up the conspiracy theory that aliens built the pyramids and kickstarted human civilization, which Sarah finds fascinating.
- Cloning Blues: In the second half of the film, Sarah becomes convinced she's a clone of her grandmother, which she find incredibly upsetting. She's driven to more and more extreme behavior in order to confirm this.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Sarah has a number of dark details in her past, many of which are only alluded to. Her mother suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide, and there seems to have been some accident involving Willow that led to Sarah no longer owning the horse.
- Ending by Ascending: The film ends with Sarah apparently being beamed up. One of the last shots is of her body rising up from the ground into a bright, white light. Whether she's time-traveling, being abducted by aliens, or simply ascending to heaven is left ambiguous.
- Erotic Dream: In one of her dream sequences, Sarah shows up at her boyfriend Darren's house clad in a bizarre homemade space-suit, after their last date ended in hysterical shouting. Rather than being confused or upset, he is happy to see her and he starts having sex with her after only a brief exchange.
- Fan Disservice: Sarah walks into a store completely naked at one point, with her nudity being depicted in full-frontal view, though in her incoherent state, this is far from sexy.
- Generation Xerox: Sarah's character arc parallels her grandmother's life story: becoming increasingly delusional and paranoid, and ultimately being institutionalized. Sarah seizes on this as evidence not that she should seek help, but that she literally is her grandmother, or a version of her.
- Identical Grandson: Sarah looks very similar to her grandmother, which she often comments on and becomes more and more obsessed with. Eventually, she becomes convinced that she is first a clone and later a time-traveling version of her grandmother.
- Magical Barefooter: At the end of the film, Sarah carefully removes her shoes before lying down on the ground and being beamed into the sky, suggesting she is preparing either to travel in time, or to return to the aliens for good. Due to the ambiguity of the situation, this action is suggestive of Barefoot Suicide as well.
- Meaningful Name: "Sarah" is a name commonly ascribed to "horse girls" in internet memes.
- Missing Time: The central mystery of the film’s plot.
- Naked Freak-Out: Played for Drama. Sarah is in the middle of a Shower of Angst, when all of a sudden she finds herself standing in the middle of the craft store where she works, completely naked. Rather than covering herself, she just stands there catatonically trying to figure out what's going on. This is the latest in a series of incidents of her having missing memories and showing up in places without knowing how she got there, but this one triggers others' notice, and she is sent to a psychiatric hospital after this.
- Naked Nutter: In one scene, Sarah is taking a Shower of Angst, then suddenly finds herself at her workplace completely nude. This signals to others that she's losing her mind, and she gets sent to a mental institution after this scene.
- Ontological Mystery: The plot is driven by Sarah's quest to understand what is going on and why she has missing memories.
- Sanity Slippage: Sarah starts off as a fairly normal if slightly eccentric woman, but over the course of the movie she becomes more and more out of touch with reality—possibly. Her missing memories and strange dreams intensify, she becomes more and more insistent on the reality of her theories about alien abduction and being a clone, and she becomes increasingly obsessed with bizarre, craft-supply based defenses against the aliens. She becomes more emotionally unstable as well, shedding her meek and understated demeanor from earlier on and at one point telling a therapist her anxiety levels are at ten on a scale of one to ten. Of course, the film never comes down on whether Sarah's "delusions" are actually true—it's possible she's the most sane character in the movie.
- Shower of Angst: After Sarah's roommate confronts her about her increasingly erratic behavior, Sarah runs into the bathroom and takes a shower, as the camera focuses on her distraught face.
- Show Within a Show: Sarah is obsessed with Purgatory, a Buffy-like fantasy series about hunting demons.
- Stalker Without A Crush: Sarah begins stalking Ron, finding his workplace and watching him outside his home, not because of any attraction to him but because she keeps seeing him in her alien abduction dream and wants to understand what's going on.
- Strong Family Resemblance: Sarah looks very much like her grandmother did. Because of this, she thinks she's really her grandmother's clone at first, then maybe they're the same woman time-traveling.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: Sarah is seemingly suffering from delusions and hallucinations throughout the film, all of which are shown from her perspective. However, it's left ambiguous what is real or not.