Side Effects (dir. Stephen Soderberg, 2013)

After having spent a day packing my life into cardboard boxes – I’m moving house – I needed to relax. Although this,  one of Soderberg’s most recent and last films, is not exactly relaxing. The fact he is leaving film making to focus on TV is a real blow – Side Effects shows a director who isn’t afraid to take risks, and challenge his audience.

First point: this is a disturbing film. Its disturbing in its portrayal of psychiatrity and mental illness, and also in its swipe at the pharma industry.

Second point: its very, very good.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a troubled young woman. About to welcome her husband home after four years of jail, she is desperate for help to ease her depression, which she eloquently describes as a “poisonous fog” enveloping her every afternoon. After a failed suicide attempt, she meets the suave psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), and begins treatment. But her newly returned husband (Channing Tatum) is noticing some disturbing side effects of the new wonder drug. And then it all swings on a shocking twist…

Part psychological thriller, part noir, Side Effects doesn’t let up. It goes for the jugular and sharpens the blade. The crisp, clean cinematography only heightens the sense of surrealism – the idea that this is a reality that is somehow warped – which trust me, is how I felt when I was suffering from depression. The performances are excellent – Mara is exquisite as the fragile Emily, whilst Tatum turns in a sweet performance as the caring but increasingly bewildered husband. But the stand out performance is from Law, as a man who realises that things are not as they seem, but the clues are there if he looks hard enough. A sharp take on an very modern problem, Side Effects is a film that needs to be watched. It makes you question how acceptable it is to seek treatment for mental illness –  and you may never want to go to a pharmacy again.