Warning: Steven Soderbergh’s new film may cause anxiety, frustration, terror, temporary memory loss, episodes of euphoria, Hitchcockian feelings of nostalgia, numbing, exhilaration, dread and apathy. Side effects of Side Effects
may also include jaw clenching and eye rolling. Consumption of Side Effects
is recommended with a grain of salt. Soderbergh is a master of genre jumping, and with Side Effects
, he combines the medical horrors of 2011’s middling Contagion
with a noir-style narrative about a young woman (Rooney Mara) who commits a horrendous crime while under the influence of a radical new antidepressant. What emerges is a nail biter that eventually sacrifices a gorgeous concept for standard mystery beats. But the setup, a story about the casualties of mental-health treatment, is damn jarring. Mara puts in a performance that’s completely counter to the feel-good depression of Silver Linings Playbook
, painting a portrait of mental illness and paranoia that lodges directly under the skin. Suicidal and prone to sleepwalking, she reaches out to an overworked psychiatrist (Jude Law), who puts her on the experimental antidepressant. It doesn’t go so well. The first hour plays like a nightmare in which you occupy the head of a severely disturbed mental patient, an effect augmented by jittery sound design that gives the illusion of constant whispers following Mara. Alas, just as the film ratchets up the jitters and paranoia, it takes a turn for the conventional in the second half, which focuses on Law doing an awful lot of Googling and stoic staring before the film hits the safety net of ho-hum conspiracy theory and conventional thriller tropes. For all its emotional buildup and unease, Side Effects
eventually suffers from multiple personalities.