At first glance, Test Pattern looks like a romantic comedy, which is reflected in the score. Reneesha (Brittany S. Hall), a young black woman, is having fun with her friends. Toward the end of the evening, Reneesha is awkwardly approached by a young white man, Evan (Will Brill). He eventually gets her phone number, but it takes him a while to find the courage to call her. After this bumpy start, they begin a relationship and fall in love.
The atmosphere and tone of the film change radically on the evening of the first day of Renesci’s new job. The Test Model slowly develops into a psychological thriller. Renesha gets a call from Amber (Gail Bean), one of her friends, who asks her out. At first, Renesha is hesitant. After all, she has to work the next morning. But eventually she gives in and promises her friend that it won’t be too late.
One evening, two men approach Renech and Amber for a drink and a dance. Too much alcohol and weed cause an uncontrollable spiral. The entire night seems to be a hazy nightmare. Renesha wakes up in one of the men’s beds. She feels shame and guilt. She is also confused because she has only fragmentary memories of the sexual abuse.
But the nightmare is not over for her. Evan insists on pressing charges and getting a rape kit. He drags his girlfriend from hospital to hospital until they finally catch her. The stakes are very high now. Eventually they file a report, but in the meantime the tension between the two increases. Because the fact that Renesha has little recollection of what happened that fateful night is getting on her nerves.
Because of the different issues covered in the film, Renesha is victimized not once, but twice. These are two men pressuring two women to drink too much alcohol and weed, which is good for them. At first, Evan seems to be the exception because of his shyness. But he is the one who decides to report the sexual assault. Renesha, on the other hand, is very reserved. She blames herself and keeps apologizing to Evan. Evan also insists on a rape test. Although he initially seems like a caring and protective man, he ignores his girlfriend’s feelings. Reneesha needs time and rest to process what happened the previous night.
Let’s not forget that we are also dealing with an interracial couple, a tattoo artist and a highly educated woman. Test Pattern is also set in Austin; at the beginning of their evening, Renesha and Amber discuss the infamous 2018 bombings in Austin, which targeted blacks and Latinos. Amber makes no bones about it. She no longer feels safe and even blames Trump. It also means that Renesha and Amber, as black women, must face the consequences of the racism and sexism that permeates the entire film.
The fact that Evan and Renesha are rejected by several hospitals is not fiction either. It’s a harsh reality for many: if you don’t have health insurance, you’re just screwed. This is true even if you don’t have the right health insurance. On top of that, not all medical institutions have rape kits (or have enough of them). And if they do, they don’t have the trained staff to do it. When Renesha is finally medically examined, the whole procedure is extremely humiliating. It is no surprise, then, that many victims of sexual violence choose not to report these crimes.
The hashtag #MeToo may have all but disappeared from Twitter and other social media platforms. However, this does not mean that the problems have been solved. Far from it. Test Pattern argues that America is in crisis, on multiple levels. It is traumatic enough when a woman is sexually assaulted. The legal system, health care system, and even male partners may try to help, but often they only compound the trauma.
This is Shatara Michelle Ford’s first feature film as director and screenwriter. Test Pattern is a brilliant film based on a solid script that presents serious issues from the perspective of a black woman. The set design, soundtrack and cinematography support and beautifully reflect the three different genres the film traverses. Check out the sample of critics – it could be one of the best films of the year.
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