The parallels between an invasive parasite and an unwanted pregnancy are navigated with intricate delicacy and subtle terror throughout Until Branches Bend, Sophie Jarvis‘s disturbing drama that offsets its small physicality with a growingly unnerving mentality.
At the centre of both converging narratives is Robin (Grace Glowicki, incredible), a fruit packing plant line worker who is good at her job in spite of its mundane temperament. Knowing that the peach orchards are what provide the local economy, it’s of considerable concern for her when she finds a piece of fruit infested with an unfamiliar bug.
Her boss (an effective Lochlyn Munro) insists that such a find is no big deal, but instructing her to keep quiet and reacting in a defensive manner when she continues questioning only heightens her concern. Knowing the economic impact could be harsh for her town should the fruit produce be compromised, Robin goes public with the news, but, as to be expected, those in power deny any prior knowledge of her find and seek to blatantly discredit her.
Robin’s determination to prove she’s telling the truth starts to consume her (almost violently so), and, if that wasn’t enough of a burden to carry, the narrative counterpart of her own pregnancy and desire to have an abortion similarly envelops her psyche, with Jarvis weaving the two commentaries together with relative ease. The latter story arc also speaks to the American healthcare system and the status that women in lower positions in the workplace hold, despite their intelligence; the difficulties Robin has in trying to secure an appointment for her abortion (and the manner in which she is spoken to) is infuriating, and the very fact that we know she is correct in how she handled the initial discovery of the bug inside the peach further speaks to a patriarchal temperament that demands to be threatened.
Enhancing the film’s backwards-thinking state is the 16mm aesthetic adhered to, with Jarvis layering Until Branches Bend with a grainy visual quality that practically converses with the nightmarish personality that slowly uncovers throughout its 98 minutes. For such a small film – one that feels tailor made for the festival circuit – Until Branches Bend dances with considerable ideals and conversation pieces. It asks you questions about where you stand on your own values against mere self preservation, and, like all good art, your answers may not always be necessarily what you hope your align yourself with.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Until Branches Bend is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival coverage, running between March 10th and 18th, 2023, in Austin, Texas. For more information head to the official SXSW website.