Lisa Brühlmann's Swiss coming-of-age mermaid tale is admirably shot and performed, but inadvertently hews too closely to similar teen-horror dramas of recent years.
It’s almost a shame that Lisa Brühlmann’s Blue My Mind came out so close on the heels of Julia Ducournau’s Raw. One of the freshest, most inventive and subtextually rich horror films of the last decade, Raw, like Blue My Mind, expresses the highly specific, yet tellingly universal anxieties of female adolescence in modern Europe by means of a subtle transformation into something monstrous. One can be certain that Blue My Mind was conceived, produced and released contemporaneously with Raw, so no accusations of plagiarism can be rightfully made; however, if you’ve seen the latter, it’s hard to watch the former without inevitably making comparisons to the other.
Instead of cannibalism, the protagonist of Blue My Mind, 15-year-old Mia (Luna Wedler) has a much more aquatic problem on her hands – on the cusp of adulthood, she finds herself transforming inexorably into a mermaid-like creature. The signs are gradual: at first, she begins to have trouble breathing; then begins to grow webbed feet. She develops a sudden hunger for the fish in her aquarium. She finds herself imagining the sound of rushing water when she holds her breath.
Of course, all of this coincides with all the chaotic, confusing changes that happen with puberty as well – Mia moves to a new town, suffocating under the strict conditions of her workaholic parents, only to fall in with a group of young girls her age (including Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen) who show her the liberation of smoking, porn and parties. It’s here that Brühlmann’s command of tone most closely echoes Ducournau’s, both films acting practically as mirror images of the other – both their leads dance slowly to EDM music in front of the mirror to practice their sexuality, or get lost in the dim, isolating lights of a dance club. The world of adulthood is big, scary, and exciting, and Mia threatens to get swallowed up at every moment.
If anything, Brühlmann takes too mild a touch with the mermaid metaphor in Blue My Mind; while the signs are all there in various tiny ways, it’s not until the last twenty minutes of the film that they really start manifesting themselves. And even then, that final act takes an absolute swan-dive into melodrama, complete with extreme, gratuitous sexual experimentation, bodily mutilation, and zero-to-sixty mystical transformations that feel slightly unearned by the film leading up to it. To a certain extent, it evinces the ways in which the Internet social media-and-porn age encourages young people to live more extreme lives than they might, but in the film itself it reads as a bit too over-the-top.
Until then, it’s a slightly heightened teen drama film along the lines of Thirteen, with occasional flirtations with genre. That’s not a bad thing, mind you; if nothing else, it hammers home the feeling of the way your body, mind and feelings change in the rough transition to adulthood. When we hit puberty, we feel the strange dysphoria of slowly growing into a body that is not our own; for Mia, this sensation only gets more pronounced.
As a film, it’s handsomely presented, the cinematography by Gabriel Lobos shivering with patented Swiss coldness – light blues and whites pervade the frame as if a portent to the dramatic transformation Mia must endure. The performances are also quite admirable, including an absolute star turn from Wedler that conveys every millimeter of Mia’s teenage pathos.
For this reviewer, though, it’s just a matter of too little, too late: Raw covers nearly identical ground with a greater sense of flair and experimentation, and does a bit more with its cannibal premise than with Mia’s slow transformation into a mermaid. It may seem unfair to compare the two films – in a vacuum, Brühlmann’s film would feel revolutionary – but when paired with each other, Blue My Mind becomes the slightly less successful version of the same take.