The directorial debut of Amber Tamblyn premiered at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. Based on the novel by Janet Fitch, Paint It Black stars Alia Shawkat and Janet McTeer in bravura performances within a harrowing drama.

Josie (Shawkat) finds out her boyfriend Michael (Rhys Wakefield) has died. Michael’s mother, Meredith (McTeer) threatens her, and Josie flirts with a dangerous relationship, trying to connect with Michael’s family but leaving herself vulnerable to further abuse. I mean, you won’t believe some of the evil things Meredith does to poor Josie. It’s in the name of her son, but come on, other people have feelings too.

I’ve never seen Shawkat like this before. I haven’t seen everything she’s done, but I had no doubt she had it in her. It’s my think with comic actors doing drama. Why are people surprised they can act? How many Robin Williamses or Jim Carreys does it take? So I’m thrilled Tamblyn gave her the opportunity to delve this deeply into grief.

Meredith is like a femme fatale. She is confident, determined and has no self-judgment. She has pure conviction and nothing stands in her way, even a mourning girl. With McTeer you see that hope of a connection with Meredith, but just when you think Josie is safe, she pulls something even worse.

Tamblyn and cinematographer Brian Rigney Hubbard have a deliberate sense of staging and camera. Shots will begin in Josie’s point of view and proceed to third person. They use the whole widescreen frame, and include some abstract interludes by way of Josie’s participation in student films. These sections seem to reflect Josie’s feelings, and also include tons of Hollywood iconography.

Paint It Black is a strong directorial voice from Tamblyn. Grief tends to be a subject from which audiences shy away but not me. I love grief movies and I want to express grief safely in fiction before I have to do it in real life. Paint it Black gives grief a dangerous edge.

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