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‘Horse Girl’ Review: Facing an Emotionally Taxing World

In “Horse Girl,” Sarah (Alison Brie) is a mousy young woman undergoing a paranoid breakdown. As she spirals further from reason, the movie follows suit. We plunge into a prolonged nightmare of instability, both in terms of Sarah’s hallucinations and the movie’s reckless evocation of them.

Streaming on Netflix, “Horse Girl” opens in a lucid reality, if a quirky one. It’s Sarah’s birthday, and her plans are nonexistent. Shy and a little socially off, she fails to connect with her Zumba classmates, likewise her cool-girl roommate. She wards off loneliness through peculiar obsessions, particularly a fantasy TV series called “Purgatory” and the horse she once owned, which she visits frequently enough to annoy its new owner and stablemen. The director Jeff Baena, who co-wrote the script with Brie, gently lingers on Sarah’s hobbies, helping us understand how they serve as armor against an emotionally taxing world.

Then, in a dizzying change of mood, Sarah loses control. Her sleepwalking habit escalates into dangerous stretches of amnesia, and black magic from “Purgatory” worms its way into her perception of the real world. Sarah plainly scans as a woman with a psychiatric illness, and the few characters we trust — her sympathetic colleague (Molly Shannon) and refreshingly sweet love interest (John Reynolds) — share our concern.

It would be tactful, at this point, for “Horse Girl” to show how Sarah’s hallucinations are causing her suffering; instead, it indulges them. When Sarah believes she’s being abducted by aliens, the movie unsettlingly takes her delusion at face value. The more time we spend inside her visions, the more we are invited to enable her, to shrug off our worry in favor of an absorbing paranormal mystery. “Horse Girl” delves into a troubled mind only to get lost among its oddities, forgetting the sensitivity that drew it there in the first place.

Horse Girl

Rated R for nudity, drugs, and distress. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes.

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