A new sci-fi movie coming to Netflix shows what it might be like to doubt your experiences if a family member’s serious mental illness made them question what was real and what wasn’t.
“Horse Girl,” written by Alison Brie and Jeff Baena, first debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday and will stream on Netflix next month. The film follows Sarah (Brie), a young woman who works at a craft store, likes supernatural crime dramas and spends time with her childhood horse. Sarah’s social circle primarily consists of her co-worker (Molly Shannon) and roommate (Debby Ryan).
Eventually, she starts thinking she’s been abducted by aliens, and Sarah begins to question her reality, much like her grandmother before her. It’s the first time the “GLOW” actress co-wrote a movie script, and the inspiration for the film’s surreal subject was largely influenced by her family.
“My whole life I’ve wanted to make something about my mother and my grandmother,” Brie told Vulture. “My mother’s mother lived with paranoid schizophrenia, and my mother grew up in a really traumatic situation. And I grew up with the mythology of my grandmother’s mental illness, hearing a lot of stories about my mother’s childhood and how the mental illness affected her.”
Brie said she didn’t want to tell a literal story but wanted to create a sci-fi-leaning thriller that’s more “abstract.” “Horse Girl” is grounded in the underlying fear that Brie said drove her interest in her grandmother’s story as well as her personal history with depression.
“I started to realize this is much more about my fear of having mental illness in my bloodline. When will it come out? And will I have the awareness to know when it’s happening?” Brie said. “In my own personal struggles with depression, I know the feeling of being helpless, feeling powerless, feeling alone.”
Even though much of Brie’s performance of Sarah — and even some of her lines — are inspired by Brie’s family, “Horse Girl” doesn’t explicitly call out mental health. Brie said this was an intentional choice. She wanted viewers to get a sense of what it might feel like to live in the shoes of a character like Sarah or even Brie and her mother.
“We had goals to make something where the audience is really going on the journey with the character rather than looking at her from the outside,” Brie told PopSugar, adding:
There’s such a stigma involved in looking at people with mental illness, and we were not trying to make a mental illness movie — but we just really wanted people to be in her head and not judging her. We want the audience to also feel uncertain and not know what’s real and isn’t real.
It is the first time Brie’s spoken about her family’s history with serious mental illness, which she told Vulture has “been a real overload.” The actress also shared that she manages her depression with therapy and a support system that understands mental health and helps her get out of the health and stay active.
“What I have, that Sarah our character doesn’t have, is an amazing support system,” Brie said. “So many friends and family members of mine go to therapy and take medication. Everyone I know has destigmatized the idea of mental health. So it was easy to ask for help, to get out of my house, to get moving and go to yoga class and work out.”
“Horse Girl” will start streaming on Netflix on Feb. 7. You can watch the full trailer below: