by Brandon Thomas
The debut feature from writer/director Shatara Michelle Ford, Test Pattern, is a compelling look at date rape, its confusing aftermath, and the ways in which the medical field and law enforcement can fail victims with their chaotic bureaucracy.
After an opening that delivers one of the sweetest, most awkward “meet-cutes” in recent memory, Test Pattern digs into the burgeoning relationship between Renesha (Brittany S. Hall of TV’s Ballers) and Evan (Will Brill of The Eyes of My Mother). Their life together is put to the test after Renesha is drugged and sexually assaulted after an evening out with her girlfriend.
Test Pattern offers a matter-of-fact approach that makes it hard to look away. The audience is with Renesha every step of the way as she traverses the confusing hours after her assault. It’s an honest, but tough, journey we take with her as she runs the gamut of emotions and, at times, humiliating experiences.
Nothing in Test Pattern would work if the strength of the cast wasn’t there. Hall is jaw-droppingly good as Renesha. She easily conveys strength, vulnerability, and poise in her early scenes. At one point on their first official date, Evan comments, “I feel like you always know what you’re talking about.” There’s no greater summation of the Renesha we meet early on.
Brill is equally good as the doting, supportive Evan. Evan’s almost “too nice” persona is in contrast to the man we see later in the film. His focused, almost fanatical need to get Renesha in front of a doctor and the police starts to feel like a salve for his wounded pride, not her well-being.
Together, these two actors have the type of natural chemistry that isn’t often seen. They deliver lines from Ford’s already expertly written script with ease and purpose. You can almost feel the history of this relationship pour off the screen. The genuine love and respect shared between Renesha and Evan make it hurt all the more as things start unraveling.
Ford’s slow-burn approach to the story, and especially the aftermath of the assault, offers an incredibly riveting, and honest approach to this serious subject matter. The tension that begins to build as Renesha and Evan drive from hospital to hospital sometimes feels akin to some of the more emotionally disturbing horror films from recent years. The result is a direct focus on the painful process this couple is forced to endure.
Test Pattern presents no easy answers. Renesha and Evan’s story isn’t wrapped up in a nice bow for us to feel good about. We don’t get the happy ending; we get the honest one.