Acidman is a powerful family drama that uses an entertaining sci-fi mystery to elevate its mature themes of generational trauma and loss.
This review contains minor spoilers for Acidman.
Though there’s hardly a shortage of family dramas in today’s cinematic climate, Acidman quickly manages to justify its own existence from its very first frame, displaying the film’s protagonist Maggie (Dianna Agron) staring out into the vast American wildlife. It’s immediately clear that Acidman has a sense of poeticism and sentimentality that gives it a very distinct and unusual atmosphere. It maintains this tone from start to finish, never neglecting to go into depth on the central dynamic at play, but always exploring from a distance and keeping some objectivity to this all-too-familiar story.
Acidman recounts the reunion of a conflicted young woman named Maggie and her estranged father Lloyd (Thomas Haden Church), who believes that his expansive land has been invaded by a series of extraterrestrial spacecrafts. When the pair come together for the first time in years, their attempts to navigate this complex situation draw out long-buried conflicts and traumas that they’ve tried desperately to keep buried. Interestingly, Acidman uses its inventive sci-fi premise merely as a backdrop for the film’s true purpose, which is both a fascinating strength and its biggest weakness: while it’s extremely clever to mirror the character’s dynamic with a completely separate subplot, the pair often feel a little disjointed and don’t mesh perfectly.
But when the film does work, it’s very strong. The two main performances from Agron and Haden Church manage to channel decades of repressed anger and spite into their on-screen relationship without it ever feeling forced – and more impressively, they also begin to resolve these conflicts in real-time. That’s also a testament to Lehmann’s and Chris Dowling’s screenplay, which knows exactly how to make these characters feel real and not simply words on a page.
Both Maggie and Lloyd are reluctant optimists: they want to believe that things aren’t totally lost between them, but their long-standing bond often blinds them to the evidence that suggests otherwise. It’s a tragic story, with both characters speaking extensively about the cyclical nature of life and how it’s often easy for children to blame their flaws on their parents, when in reality, the truth is much more complex than that. These aren’t exactly new ideas, but Acidman feels authentic and grounded enough to really tackle them with a solemn and serious tone that works well. It doesn’t always go into enough depth about these ideas (partly because it’s so distracted by its own decision to interweave a sci-fi adventure into this story), but the glimpses of commentary that it does offer are very powerful.
One aspect of Acidman that really stands out is how effectively the UFO subplot mirrors the on-screen struggles of the film’s central characters. Lloyd is obsessed with contacting the creatures that he believes to have invaded his property, while Maggie doesn’t always share the same enthusiasm for his project – but conversely, it’s Maggie that dedicates her time and resources to making meaningful contact with her father. Neither are fully successful in their quests, not least because one is trying to speak to aliens that likely don’t even exist, but because they’re both chasing the echoes of things that are lost. It’s a feeling that’s painfully familiar for many audiences, with Lloyd representing the absent parent that’s easy to blame for a child’s many difficulties – but Acidman proposes that this cycle is inevitable, and after a certain point, we all embody the same failures that we once saw in our parents.
Acidman will be released in US theaters and on demand on March 31, 2023. Pre-order Acidman here!