There are some films that provide such an unexpected jolt to the system that one still feels the tingles hours after being struck. Writer-director Sophie Jarvis’ debut feature Until Branches Bend is a perfect example of this. Jarvis constructs a compelling and haunting work that lingers in one’s mind long after the final credits have rolled.
Jarvis’ layered film revolves around a cannery worker who makes a big discovery that could potentially rock her quiet Okanagan community in British Columbia. While doing her routine quality control check of the peaches coming down the assembly line, Robin (Grace Glowicki) notices that one of them has a wormhole. Cutting open the fruit, she is startled to find a strange-looking insect alive on the inside. Unsure of what the type of bug it is, Robin takes it directly to her manager, Dennis (Lochlyn Munro), who assures her that there is nothing to be concerned about.
Seeing as Robin has more pressing things to worry about, including the discovery that she is pregnant with her married boss’ baby, she does not give the incident any further thought. However, like a fly landing on one’s favourite meal, Robin cannot get the image of the bug out of her mind. Deciding to take a photo of the insect to a specialist, she inadvertently sets off a change reaction which results in the factory temporarily closing for further inspection. With the lifeblood of the community’s economy cut off, the reserved Robin finds herself receiving the ire of those who she once considered friends.
Complicating matters is that Robin has no witness or proof outside of the photo on her phone, which some assume has been doctored. Although the audience knows what Robin has seen, Until Branches Bend skillfully plants seed of doubt in both the viewer and the film’s protagonist. Thanks to the wonderful sound design, where the constant sounds of insects buzzing around Robin create a chilling effect, one starts to question if this could all be a figment of her imagination. Even her own sister Laney (Alexandra Roberts), who longs to leave their town and see the world, a dream Robin gave up on years ago, begins to question if things occurred as her sister claims.
Allowing the root of paranoia to grow within the viewer, Jarvis skillfully highlights the difficult road women must often walk in hopes of finding vindication. One of the fascinating things about Until Branches Bend is that it is the female characters who are put in uncomfortable position of risking it all in the name of doing the right thing. All this while having society strip away their autonomy, a fact reinforced when observing Robin’s difficult time in attempting to book an abortion. As Robin slips further into isolation from the society she was trying to save in the first place, Jarvis cranks up then tension and subtle terror.
Until Branches Bend is such an effective and unnerving film because Jarvis keeps everything grounded in a reality that is identifiable. One is always aware of the dangers Robin faces while navigating a community that is becoming increasingly more hostile towards her. While Robin’s safety remains top of mind, thanks to Glowicki’s sensationally layered performance, one can also understand the frustration that the locals have because of big corporations monopolizing and governing how farmers and crop pickers make a living. Jarvis’ film also captures the arrogance of capitalism from a generational wealth perspective as well. Most notably when Laney falls for a young man from a wealthy family who is picking peaches for the summer not out of necessity, but rather because he thought it might be fun.
It is this sense of relatability on a human level that allows Jarvis’ drama to extract maximum chills from some of the simplest shots. Whether it is the camera lingering on a peach about to be plucked or one of the numerous quick edits involving images of flies, Jarvis effectively creates a sense of dread.
A mesmerizing work, Until Branches Bend is a thrilling debut that announces Jarvis as an exciting new voice to keep an eye on.
Until Branches Bend screens as a part of TIFF 2022, which runs from September 8 to 18. Head here for more from the festival.