As a film critic, there’s nothing more satisfying than discovering a director with a truly distinctive and entertaining style. With so many films I come across, I feel as though I’m watching something I’ve seen before, simply pushed through a grinder to give it a unique texture. It may look a little different, but it’s all the same ingredients that were there before, just repackaged to appear as something new. Dana Kippel’s Reflect (2023) never gave me that feeling. On the contrary, watching Reflect offers an engaging narrative and an exceptional (and trippy) visual experience. 

Reflect tells the story of Summer (played by writer/director Dana Kippel), a woman who feels trapped in a relationship with James (Corey Brooks), a guy who doesn’t show much interest in her, and doesn’t seem all that interesting as a person. You can tell from the outset that Summer feels disconnected from herself, her boyfriend, and virtually everything around her, to the point that she sets her friends up on a spiritual getaway in Sedona, Arizona. In theory, each participant will be awarded with a chunk of cash just for making it through the experience. 

Summer sets out with four friends, but there is discord in the group from the start. Nia (Ariana Brown) won’t answer calls from her mother, while sisters Katie (Grace Patterson) and Annie (Marissa Patterson) can’t seem to talk to each other without tearing themselves down. Summer is unenthusiastic that Liz (Jadelyn Breier) came on the trip at all, believing that Liz wants to steal James from her. As the journey continues, the group encounters a variety of bizarre and confusing characters who lead them through the spiritual retreat, where they are faced with their own demons and the internal traumas that they’re too afraid to face in their daily lives.

Though Reflect has a style all its own, I did detect — or at least interpret — influences from other great films and filmmakers. The cinematography and undertones of disconnection, depression, and metaphysical wonder felt reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), while some of the camera work and unhinged characters were delightfully Lynchian in style. But Dana Kippel’s Reflect addresses its themes more directly, through both psychedelic visuals and surreal interactions. We, as viewers, get to see the trauma firsthand, even if it is presented in a way that doesn’t appeal to the sensibilities and expectations of mainstream cinema.

Reflect (2023)

From a filmmaking perspective, Reflect stands out as one of the few indie films in recent memory to successfully film on location without sacrificing the quality of its visuals. In fact, the film seamlessly blends images of interstellar clouds and mysterious vortexes with the natural beauty of the Arizona desert. There are a few moments when the film’s low budget creeps through, particularly when it involves the embedded narrative of “The Game of Life” TV show, but these moments are far outshined by the fantastic cinematography, excellent performances (especially from the five central actors), and philosophical themes that ask the big questions without a lot of unnecessary exposition.

Many filmmakers have tried and failed to make a quality metaphysical film, as it’s such an abstract concept to transcribe to the cinematic medium. This is why it was pleasantly surprising to see a young filmmaker (in her feature debut, no less) create a story that lends itself so well to such a difficult and complex genre. Summer is disconnected from the world around her, and every aspect of the film is dedicated to the questions humans ask themselves in moments of existential dread. Are we distinct from the universe around us? Does our world, as we know it, really exist? How does our consciousness take form in the natural world, and how are the two connected?

Like any genuine metaphysical film, these questions are not answered with any sense of certainty. I won’t give away the ending, but it does hint at a theory, however far-fetched, about what could be true about our existence, or at least the existence of the characters in the film. Depending on your temperament, you may walk away from Reflect with a greater sense of purpose and connection to the people and things around you, or you may feel even more confused and lost than before. I personally felt a sense of optimism as the credits rolled, and as a certifiable cynic, this was no small feat. For this reason alone, I can honestly say that Dana Kippel shows great talent as a philosophical filmmaker, and I’m excited to see more from her in the future. In closing, if you want to enjoy a legitimate metaphysical film that is simultaneously frightening and hopeful, Dana Kippel’s Reflect is certainly a diamond in the rough. 

Reflect (2023) Movie Rating: ★★★★ out of 5

If you’d like to watch Reflect (2023), the film premieres on January 9th, 2023, and you can stream, rent, or purchase it after the premiere at If you want to learn more about Dana Kippel’s future projects, be sure to check out Crazy Carrot Films. For more film reviews like this one, be sure to check out the Philosophy in Film homepage!

The post Reflect (2023), A Mind-Bending Metaphysical Journey Into the Unknown appeared first on Philosophy in Film.

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