Disengagement

By Cheston Kwan | Drama
A veteran with PTSD undergoes an experimental form of psychedelic therapy.

Evan is a veteran suffering from PTSD, as he struggles with the trauma of his battlefield experiences. Under the guidance of his counselor, he decides to undergo a new treatment using psychedelics to access the more hidden pockets of his memory and consciousness.

But as he begins, the treatment unearths deep reservoirs of fear and anxiety within Evan. He leaves, but the disquiet he feels from his first session of the new therapy leads to an unexpected reckoning.

Written and directed by Cheston Kwan, this tightly wound short thriller captures the moment of one man's mental dissolution as the shape of his internal landscape comes into the light.

Deliberately paced and shrouded in a weighty sense of darkness, the film is pared-down to only what's needed, both visually and in terms of narrative. We don't get much outside information about Evan's current life or a larger sense of his character in the world outside of the therapist's office. But what we do glean in his flashbacks and dreams is telling and essential, especially since he keeps revisiting a key moment in battle that has shaped him going forward. But those memories always stop up to a certain point, signaling something that Evan is avoiding.

The therapist's new approach threatens that avoidance, as it pushes Evan closer to facing what he's been hiding from himself for some time. Actor Allen C. Gardner captures the disassociation and removal of a man who wants to keep himself compartmentalized at all costs, while actor Annie Monroe offers an empathetic, warm presence as the therapist that constantly reaches out to her patient. That closeness and vulnerability -- along with the awakened memories -- proves too much, pushing Evan to a breaking point. But it's only by pushing through that breaking point that Evan has any chance of healing.

Spare and compact, Disengagement is about the role of facing fears and trauma in the process of healing. It's a complex subject, and the storytelling could benefit from a few more beats or scenes that expand our sense of its main character and the journey he's been on. But when it comes to the core of the matter, it offers insight into how feelings like guilt, shame, and grief are tough to grapple with when it comes to the aftermath of trauma. It's very common to deny and avoid these complex, tricky emotions because they're so painful to go through. But if we keep pushing them down, they often find a way to come to the surface with a force or a shape that can't always be controlled. The story here offers a very dramatic, tense imagining of that idea, but its clarity also makes it applicable to a wider swath of people and relatable in its common humanity.




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