Quarantine life, especially in winter, is defined by little else than a soul-crushing routine. That feeling that no matter how interesting your day might seem, it becomes mundane when you do it over and over again. Natasha Kermani and Brea Grant’s Lucky doesn’t reference the pandemic or quarantine, but it taps into the dullness of those routines to connect it with the emotional and physical labour of dealing with the constant aggressions (micro-and-macro) that women have to face each day.
May (Grant) is a semi-successful author of self-help books, who has a comfortable life with her partner Ted (Dhruv Uday). I say comfortable, but I guess I mean complacent. May and Ted get along, but there’s a clear distance between them which we later find out might be rooted in the fact that May cheated on him some time ago and those scars are still healing.
One night, a man breaks into May and Ted’s home and tries to kill May, but Ted fights him off and he flees immediately. Understandably shaken, May discusses the event with Ted afterwards but his reaction is odd, to say the least. He talks about and dismisses the attack as though it were as minor an inconvenience as running out of milk. Others in May’s sphere similarly minimize the invasion, which causes May to express her confusion to Ted. This sets off an argument which ultimately ends in Ted leaving their home.
But the attacks persist, and every single night May has to fight off the same intruder in a variety of ways. She always prevails, but, despite her best efforts, she is unable to prevent the assailant from disappearing afterwards. This means that when May inevitably calls the police each time, she isn’t believed due to an apparent lack of evidence. The circle of events soon becomes rote, and May is left to try to comprehend what is happening, and why.
Lucky’s unsubtle but cleverly conveyed message is that the fear of being attacked is persistent among all women, in a multitude of ways that might or might not include overt violence. These aggressions might take the form of a supposed partner or ally like Ted, who simply isn’t interested in processing what May is going through and immediately leaves her to fend for herself. They might be someone like May’s agent, who dismissively reduces her success with her books to her being “lucky” instead of anything to do with her skill or experience as an author. They might even be law enforcement or a social worker, who simply don’t listen when May urges them to investigate the attacks, and are eager to tag them as a domestic assault. In any case, the real and lasting assaults in Lucky (even more so than the physical ones, which May fends off relatively easily) are those on May’s emotional state, wherein all the supports she tries to lean on turn her away, in many cases for not being a perfect victim and reacting in a way they expect.
Both Julia Swain’s cinematography and Kermani’s direction have a lot of heavy lifting to do in Lucky. In order to present this nightmarish depiction of May’s everyday life, there are a number of tricks of misdirection and subtle and unsubtle use of sets and lighting that need to be employed. It may not be immediately apparent from a first viewing, but May’s world – even the familiar environments like her own house – is constantly changing and fracturing. The art on her walls changes so subtly that you’ll wonder if you imagined it and even May’s own reflection doesn’t look quite right. And then there’s Swain’s biggest and most jarring achievement here, the film’s climax and big reveal in a parking garage that makes you question everything you’ve seen before.
I recently described Lucky to a friend as a film about “the horror of gaslighting”, but the more I think about it, I feel like that’s completely wrong. Where gaslighting is typically understood to mean convincing a person that something that isn’t happening is happening, what’s going on in Lucky is the opposite. It delves into the frightening and debasing feeling of not being believed, of having your lived experience being invalidated in real time. Lots of horror films – Rosemary’s Baby springs immediately to mind – touch on this, but Lucky’s self-awareness of the way this invalidation can break a person down feels like a logical next step in that discussion, and feels authentic. You can tell that Grant is drawing on personal experience in some of the reactions of May’s partner Ted and the other people that she tries to lean on. Grant’s script does this in a way that – counterintuitively to the way I’ve described Lucky so far – uses the darkest of dark humour to get this across. It’s disarming in a compelling way, and forces you to lower your guard to the real horror happening in the film.
A cleverly executed treatise on gendered violence, Natasha Kermani and Brea Grant have, with Lucky, depicted women being attacked over and over again, unable to talk to anyone without being talked down to, and having to – as May’s book says, go it alone. It’s a scary world where nothing can be trusted – not your partner, your friends, your colleagues, and even your own eyes – and fighting against a constant fear of attack is so regular that it becomes ‘the new normal.’ Perhaps nothing in Lucky or in any other horror film this year is scarier than the fact that, for women, that world is our own.
Natasha Kermani and Brea Grant’s Lucky comes to Shudder in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand on March 4th.