woman sitting on a couch

Kenesha (Brittany S. Hall) and Evan (Will Brill) wait for a post-assault medical exam in Test Pattern. (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

In 2020’s Promising Young Woman, Carey Mulligan plays a woman whose life has been forever changed by a sexual assault—a sexual assault that happened not to her, but to a friend who was too incapacitated to give consent.  

In Test Pattern, Brittany S. Hall plays a woman who actually falls victim to such an assault after she’s been numbed by alcohol and drugs. But compared to its predecessor, the new film takes a less direct and more complicated approach to the subject. Rather than focus solely on sexual politics, writer-director Shatara Michelle Ford branches out into other areas, including the unmapped intersection of race and romance. 

It’s a sign of the film’s multifaceted concerns that the assault doesn’t happen until well into its brief running time. Until then, Ford concentrates on developing the relationship between Renesha (Hall), a young Black executive living in Austin, and Evan (Will Brill), a White tattoo artist. 

The two first meet when Evan runs into Renesha in a bar and shyly asks for her phone number. Though the obviously successful woman and the scruffy man would seem to be an unlikely match, she readily gives him her information and even taunts him with the accusation that he’ll never call. In fact, that turns out to be the case, but fate eventually brings the two together, leading to a relationship apparently based on both physical attraction and mutual respect.

Then comes the assault, taking place following Renesha’s “girls night out” with her friend Amber (Gail Bean) and involving an insistent bar patron named Mike (Drew Fuller). The next morning, Renesha wakes up in a groggy haze, knowing only that she’s spent the night with someone who wasn’t Evan. 

The rest of the film details Renesha and Evan’s disparate responses to the incident. She seemingly wants to forget a night that she remembers only in bits and pieces, but he’s determined to seek justice for what he’s certain was a sexual assault. Accordingly, Evan drags Renesha from one clinic to another in search of someone who will administer a rape kit to preserve the evidence. 

Just as the partners have different responses to the assault, viewers likely will have varying responses to the aftermath. Is Evan acting heroically or insensitively, protectively or possessively? Is Renesha acting out of embarrassment or out of the fear that, as a Black woman, her complaint won’t be taken seriously? Does Evan, as a White man, understand what’s going through her mind? Hall and Brill, who were charming in the couple’s getting-acquainted moments, portray their post-assault reactions sensitively and convincingly. 

Writer-director Ford has been praised for presenting the pair’s story with subtlety and nuance, but occasionally she leaves subtlety behind—most puzzlingly, when she accompanies an otherwise silent scene with music from The Nutcracker’s “Waltz of the Flowers.” 

Ford also has been praised for telling the complex story in an economical 82 minutes, but some might wish she’d allowed it to unfold just a little longer so it could come to a recognizable conclusion rather than simply stopping. Again, viewers might be divided on this, with some finding the ending provocative while others are left wanting a bit more. Count me in the latter camp. 

Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5) 

Test Pattern (no MPAA rating) can be viewed virtually beginning Feb. 26 through Columbus’s Gateway Film Center (