“Test Pattern” is undeniably compelling in its modest but harrowing presentation of race and gender issues. During its first half, it simply and sweetly observes the relationship development between two very different people, but its disturbing opening shot already showed us what will happen to this loving couple later, and the second half is often devastating as these two people struggle with anger, pain, and frustration in front of a system which, as many of you know, has often failed them and many others out there.
These two people in question are Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill), and the following scene after that unnerving opening shot shows us their accidental first encounter in Austin, Texas. While Renesha is having a fun time along with her several friends at a local bar, she happens to be noticed by Evan, and, after dancing a bit with her, he tentatively approaches to her later. Although both of them are considerably drunk and he is a total stranger to her, she gives him her phone number anyway, and that is the beginning of their romantic relationship. She soon invites him to her apartment, and it does not take much time for them to sense their mutual attraction as they interact more with each other.
Some time later, we see Renesha living with Evan at a house where he works as a tattoo artist while she works in some local non-profit organization outside. Maybe she gave up some of her initial career ambition, it is clear that she is passionate about her job, and Evan is certainly glad to hear that she has been recently promoted at her workplace, though he is not so willing to have a drinking time with her and her close female friend for celebration.
Anyway, Renesha ends up going to a bar only with her friend during that evening. Although she simply wants to talk with her friend while not drinking at all, the situation is changed when two white males approach to them. These two dudes are also having a celebratory drinking time, and, despite her initial reluctance, Renesha subsequently finds herself not only drinking a lot but also ingesting a certain kind of substance. As a consequence, everything looks quite blurry to her, and then one of these two guys takes her to a hotel room.
When she becomes less drunk, Renesha is confused and horrified to discover that she is on the bed with that guy. Although he acts as if nothing serious had happened between them and then takes her to her residence by his care later, her blurry fragments of memory indicate that she was sexually assaulted, and her body and mind belatedly take their slow steps toward recognition while she takes a bit of rest.
Once she becomes sober enough, Renesha tells her boyfriend about what happened at last night, and, while understandably quite angry and shocked, Evan willingly takes her to a nearby hospital for getting her examined as soon as possible, but then they find themselves stuck in a bureaucratic system which does not help them much from the beginning. For example, after waiting for more than two hours at that hospital, they are only told that they should go to the other hospital just because of the absence of a qualified specialist to handle her and a rape examination kit, and, this is quite infuriating to say the least, they are also demanded to pay more than one thousand dollar even though Renesha did not receive any help or treatment at all.
As time goes by without much process for them, we come to sense more strain on Renesha and Evan’s relationship. As a black female who is probably well aware of her disadvantaged social status due to race and gender, Renesha clearly discerns that there is nothing much she or her boyfriend can do in front of their increasingly frustrating situation, but she still cannot help but feel hurt by her traumatic experience behind her resigned but guarded attitude on the surface, and we are not so surprised when she eventually comes to show her anger and frustration during a certain brief moment later in the film. As a white male, Evan is baffled and exasperated to see his girlfriend not getting any proper treatment, and he becomes more determined to get her tested even though she suggests that they just go back to their home instead.
Never becoming blatant in its underlying social messages, the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Shatrara Michelle Ford phlegmatically details its two main characters’ plight, and the result is sometimes as painful as Eliza Hittman’s “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” (2020). While cinematographer Ludovica Isidori did a commendable job of capturing the small nuances and details from the two main characters without being obtrusive at all, the score by Robert Ouyang Rusli is particularly effective when it uses a certain familiar piece of classic work as a counterpart to another moment of frustration for Renesha and Evan later in the story.
In addition to having a good chemistry between them on the screen during the first half, Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill are also believable in the growing conflict between their respective characters. Hall is especially good when Renesha finally starts to deal with her trauma around the end of the film, and Brill ably supports his co-star’s performance while bringing some casual charm and decency to his character.
On the whole, “Test Pattern” feels like an extended short film from time to time, but it still works powerfully during its quiet but strong moments, and we come to have more understanding and empathy on its two main characters’ respective emotional struggles. This is the first feature film from Ford (She previously made short film “Afro-Woman: 2016 CE” (2016), by the way), and I hope this will be the beginning of another interesting American female filmmaker to watch.