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State of Consciousness

It takes up to four men to restrain Emile Hirsch in “State of Consciousness,” a soul-draining psychological thriller about a falsely accused man (Hirsch) who keeps getting medicated and harassed against his will. Hirsch plays Stephen, a manic gas station clerk, car mechanic, and former military-man whose life is ruined after the cops find a dead body in a car that was left at Stephen’s filling station. Stephen doesn’t know anything about that, but he can’t beat the charges against him either since his fingerprints all over the car.

Stephen pleads insanity, using an old psychiatric misdiagnosis to make his case. Because at one point, a doctor said (off-camera) that Stephen showed “signs of bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia.” Stephen now says that he actually had “minor [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder].” In any case, Stephen’s soon imprisoned in a psychiatric facility, where he’s restrained (by only two men) and then injected with a big syringe. He spends the rest of the movie running away and/or struggling to regain control of reality as he knows it.

It’s somewhat difficult to judge “State of Consciousness” without considering both Hirsch’s self-pitying role and twitchy performance. He’s become a prolific star of low-budget Video-On-Demand genre movies, like the dismal 2021 horror thriller “Son” and the sub-“Pulp Fiction” art world crime caper “American Night” (also 2021).

In real life, Hirsch also pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault in 2015 and spent 15 days in jail. You might be able to watch “State of Consciousness” without thinking about what Stephen’s behavior says about Hirsch. You’ll still be left with a drab and unpleasant psychodrama where the main character tumbles from one frame-up to the next, and always in a way that confirms that yes, Virginia, the world really is out to specifically get Stephen and destroy his peace of mind.

That’s not a bad premise for a B-movie, nor is Hirsch’s broad performance necessarily inappropriate. I’m still amazed at how lifeless Stephen’s trials often are. A revealing and memorably disturbing moment comes about partway through the movie, when a major character is crushed to death by a motel sign that randomly smashes through the ceiling. The sparking letters on the sign say, “The Last Stop Motel,” which is sort of a joke.

Stephen is so laughably passive that he has to shoot another side character in the head just to prove that he’s not a total pushover. That’s not a spoiler though since the makers of “State of Consciousness” also frequently break up Stephen’s more violent confrontations with blackouts and other sudden breaks from the movie’s linear reality. The big payoff, where we find out why Stephen’s being so thoroughly flogged, is hilariously underwhelming.

No part of Stephen’s pseudo-slippery narrative rings true, not even the stuff that precede his frequent lapses of sanity. He has two grounding influences, his concerned partner Alicia (Tatjana Nardone) and token bestie Lester (David Wurawa). Stephen listens and swaps expository dialogue with them in a shrill, wearying tone. We know that Stephen and Lester are supposed to be good friends because Lester asks him exactly how long it’s been they’ve been friends (Stephen can’t remember). And we know that he and Alicia once had a strong (and frisky!) relationship because the opening scene is one of the tackiest sex scenes you’re likely to see this year. Every overstressed line reading appears false to the point of distraction, and nobody has chemistry with their on-screen castmates.

The movie’s plot also doesn’t develop so much as it piles up. Each new confrontation adds extra steps to the plot without any other outstanding qualities. It’s hard enough to watch Stephen’s one-sided sparring with the vampish Dr. Fielder (Kesia Elwin), who is somehow always coming to take Stephen away. It’s even harder to care when Stephen’s picked on by a rowdy biker gang, led by the conventionally psychopathic Lazlo (Robin Mugnaini). Lazlo’s scenes are so tedious that they make even the most stillborn Roger Corman-produced biker pics seem lively. Yes, even “Naked Angels.”

You, too, might emotionally check out while watching “State of Consciousness,” and on a semi-regular basis, given how much dead air and how many awkward line readings pile up from one scene to the next. There might have been something confessional about Stephen’s constant persecution, but there are only brief flashes of personality throughout, and they’re mostly unconvincing, too. Who really needs to watch Emile Hirsch listen to the blues—he’s hospitalized at the Saint James Mental Health Center, oy vey—or describe himself as “poor working man” when everything else about the movie strains the most basic genre movie logic? The makers of “State of Consciousness” occasionally threaten to go somewhere darker and stranger, but they never get very far.

 

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in The New York TimesVanity FairThe Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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Film Credits

State of Consciousness movie poster

State of Consciousness (2024)

Rated R

Cast

Emile Hirsch as Stephen

Tatjana Nardone as Alicia

Kesia Elwin as Dr. Fielder

Robin Mugnaini as Lazlo Sinclair

David Wurawa as Lester

Michael E. Rodgers as Toby Sinclair

Lara Pictet as Kathy

Gaia Scodellaro as Monique

Director

Writer

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