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In 'The Assistant' it’s the bystanders, not the devil, that will horrify you

In 'The Assistant' it’s the bystanders, not the devil, that will horrify you

Julia Garner immediately strikes the tone of The Assistant as she sets out for work in early morning Astoria bound for the production company in Manhattan where she works. Through her character Jane we’re immediately granted a window into a deep, systemic exhaustion. Five weeks into her job and it is clear she’s ready to collapse from something far more sinister than an early alarm.

Most of the film is constructed much like the opening shot of the movie, a static and quiet frame that peels back the emotional elements you’ll realize you rely on in other films for reassurance. In a horror film, a screeching violin acknowledges what you’re seeing on the screen should terrify you. Yet for Jane, and by extension you, all that earmarks the daily horrors of office life under a vicious sexual predator are muffled voices through her landline, the ruffling of papers, and the muted hum of a printer.

Kitty Green has constructed a nightmare that is efficient, brutal and unrelenting in its cruelty. Subtle clues to the reality of her job are set like landmines across Jane’s path - a stray earring here, a crass joke there - each declares war on another piece of Jane’s sanity as she’s forced to make the impossible choice far too many are forced to make: outright conformity and protection for the devil in her midst or the outright abandonment of her dreams and everything she’s ever worked for.

The Assistant is certainly a #MeToo movie but it is not focused directly on the victims. Instead, it interrogates the cult-like contortions systems of people will go to to protect its perpetrators. While the specter at the film’s core never makes an appearance his surrogates do, and through their disarming smiles, glossy humor and stabbing kindness Green begins to paint the necessary picture of how so many men get away with it for so long.

The Assistant is playing in limited release in Toronto. You can get tickets at Cineplex Younge-Dundas and Famous Players Canada Square Cinemas