There is a gripping, sorrowful, quietly on-edge performance at the center of "Everything Put Together," in which Radha Mitchell plays a sunny young suburbanite and first-time mother thrown into the throes of psychological horror by the loss of her newborn baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Mitchell ("High Art," "Pitch Black") is a yuppie Alice in Anguish-land, falling down a rabbit hole of despair and denial after her social support system is yanked out from under her. Ostracized by her fellow young mother gal-pals, who convince themselves they're being helpful by letting her have her space, she finds no comfort from her suddenly apprehensive husband (Justin Louis) either, and she begins to withdraw into a subconscious world of fear and fantasy that threatens to slide into true madness.
Mitchell's portrayal is powerful, but writer Catherine Lloyd Burns (who plays one of the girlfriends) and director Marc Forster (who after shooting this 2000 film went on to make "Monster's Ball" [review coming this week]) don't let her raw, tragic performance speak for itself.
Far too deliberate in the way it pricks at Mitchell's psyche, the film employs intrusively unsettling music, like a horror movie, and overbearing symbolism (a doctor swats a fly with the baby's autopsy report, shots of surgical instruments are juxtaposed with Mitchell's use of a CuisinArt). Forster is excessively enamoured with the intimate nature of his digital video style, using hand-held shaky-cam techniques to cheaply illustrate his heroine's spiraling mental condition. And while all of this artifice is being employed, the story suffers for not addressing some pretty conspicuous points.
Why has her husband become distant? What's going on in his head? Why has no one -- not even Mitchell's obstetrician -- suggested therapy? Wouldn't that be standard procedure?
Forster shows promise as a director that was further realized in "Monster's Ball" (the critical success of which led to this film's belated release). His use of darkness as a metaphor feels like a black hole pulling the viewer inside of Mitchell's broken heart. And film's brilliantly ambiguous closing scene puts such an exclamation point on this woman's emotional journey that "Everything Put Together" is almost worth seeing just for the impact of its last 60 seconds.
But Forster's lack of subtlety and avoidance of common sense issues sabotages Mitchell's resoundingly disconsolate performance to such an degree that it's impossible to ignore the subterfuge and just let the potency behind it wash over you.