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Film review: Brain on Fire – Chloe Grace Moretz confronts rare brain disease in monotonous drama

Based on a true story and directed by rising Irish talent Gerard Barrett, this bland film is unlikely to spread awareness of the disease at its centre

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 7:01am

2/5 stars

Chloe Grace Moretz ( The 5th Wave , Bad Neighbours 2 ) goes through the entire repertoire of acting crazy in Brain on Fire. The true-life medical drama is, however, less likely to bring awareness to a very rare autoimmune disorder – anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, to be exact – than it is to be consumed as a low-rent imitator of Safe, Todd Haynes’ 1995 parable about an American woman suffering from an unidentifiable debilitating illness.

Life seems splendid for recent university graduate Susannah (Moretz), who is working her “dream job” as a New York Post reporter alongside a fun colleague (Jenny Slate) and a supportive editor (Tyler Perry); in a cosy relationship with an aspiring musician boyfriend (Thomas Mann); and enjoying the liberty of living apart from her divorced parents (Richard Armitage and Carrie-Anne Moss). But everything changes one day when she begins to zone in and out involuntarily.

What starts out as occasional episodes of hazy perception soon give way to a constant struggle with insomnia, paranoia, mood swings, hallucinations and seizures. While everyone shows her unconditional love and care, Susannah’s ordeal appears to attain a metaphysical edge when doctor after doctor fails to diagnose the disease troubling the young woman, who ends up in hospital, catatonic.

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Then a late twist arrives – just before she’s sent to a psychiatric ward! – with a good doctor and his right diagnosis, and we don’t even get to see Susannah’s recovery before the abrupt happy ending. It is no spoiler to say that because this film, directed by promising Irish filmmaker Gerard Barrett ( Glassland ), is based on the bestselling memoir by Susannah Cahalan, who has obviously survived to tell the tale. It’s just a shame the adaptation is so uncompromisingly bland.

Brain on Fire opens on April 27

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