Ultrasound review – Möbius strip of a film evokes Inception’s dream machine

A nocturnal traveller caught in a freaky menage a trois; an isolated mistress to a powerful senator; a technician in an experimental facility who seems to feed lines to characters in the other dramas. Rob Schroeder’s sci-fi-tinged feature debut expends much effort arranging these nested realities in a furiously scrambled film that makes you feel like you’re the test subject in Inception’s dream machine – and one who’s sniffed a few tubes of Bostik before bedtime. It’s a brave storyteller’s gambit, but there’s something finally underwhelming and convoluted about Ultrasound once it deigns to join the dots.

Glen (Vincent Kartheiser) is out in his car at night when he drives over a makeshift stinger that means an enforced stop at the house of Art (Bob Stephenson), whose hospitality already borders on over-ingratiating even before he suggests the newcomer sleeps with his wife Cyndi (Chelsea Lopez). Some time later, Art arrives at Glen’s door claiming Cyndi is pregnant, a subject obviously on his mind as he also keeps turning up in the timeline of Katie (Rainey Qualley), a politician’s hook-up who is having hallucinations of impending motherhood. Back in Glen’s apartment, Cyndi – now living with him – seems to be having a psychotic breakdown, leading to the pair of them being extracted to a unit from which therapist Shannon (Breeda Wool) has on some level been scripting their waking nightmare.

Still with me? A queasy sense of detachment and surrendered control runs through this mesh of stories, blearily shot by cinematographer Mathew Rudenberg. As Cyndi’s high-school English teacher hints: “Avoid using the passive voice. It gives us the doing and the done, as if no one did that.” But as David Lynch also once said: “Mystery is good, confusion is bad.” Ultrasound – though constructed with attention to detail – arguably spends too much time on the confusion side of the divide.

It finally transpires that Art has a past with the institute (which researches suggestive states), as Schroeder attempts to fold his film back into a neat Möbius strip. But despite a cursory attempt to link this layer cake of unreality back, via the senator, to the fake news phenomenon, in the end it is hard to see the broader point beyond an ornate but blunt exercise in narrative contrivance.