As far as films about a depressed young person on the verge of suicide learning they are the center of a dying universe and that maybe reconnecting with the outside world isn’t such a bad idea go, Discontinued is at least well-acted and generally pretty to look at, even though it can’t quite escape the navel-gazing nature of its core premise.
Sarah (Ashley Hutchinson) is a millennial with too many pills and too few prospects. She has spent years in therapy with Theodore (Robert Picardo), the quintessential doctor who happens to run out of time whenever his effectiveness is questioned. Sarah’s mother, Sharon (Risa Benson), is only encouraging, but the words are empty to Sarah, who can’t break out of her funk. Even Sarah’s best friend, Kayla (Michelle Yazvac), doesn’t understand her plight, inviting her on dates with lame guys who fancy themselves “entrepreneurs” whose big world-changing ideas stop at small-brew IPA delivery services on college campuses. It’s rough for Sarah, who teeters ever on the edge.
One night, she gathers all her pills and, on the verge of ending it, finds herself interrupted by a pseudo-spiritual presence. The Guide (Langston Fishburne) pops onto her TV, informing her that her world is simply one of countless simulated iterations of reality and that she has a choice: She can live within a version of the simulation or she can let go, experiencing her five happiest memories infinitely for all eternity in a state of unknowing bliss.
Having the choice to leave the world or hang on flips Sarah’s dynamic with everyone around her. She can’t commit to eternity while others are happy enough to happily enjoy the final days before their promised rapture.
Unfortunately, Discontinued is a much more interesting drama before the central premise is revealed and the story starts to turn on a blunt metaphor for suicide and depression that feels less empathetic than what Hutchinson offers in the opening scenes as she moves about her life, interacting with people who love her but don’t understand her turmoil. Many of those relationships get short-shrift once the end of the world comes into play and aren’t replaced by anything quite so dramatically juicy.
Nothing really happens in the back half of the film besides Sarah wandering from person to person, trying to decide how she wants to go and surprised at how willing the rest of the world is to give in (or how broken a knowledge of the end makes the adults who previously scolded her for being depressed). Sure, there’s a continued drama with Trevor (Michael Bonini), who is introduced as an annoying grindcore blind date and never proves more interesting than a one-scene character. The ending, which seeks a kind of optimistic nihilism, doesn’t end up particularly insightful.
As far as it goes, Discontinued gets most of its substance from the depression metaphor, but it’s a subject matter that, while deeply relatable, doesn’t make for a particularly interesting or motivated central character. Sarah worries and frets but only takes minimal action throughout the film. There’s just an unfortunate inertness to the story.
Director Trevor Peckham (who wrote the script with Michael Villucci) makes his debut here and does a great job shooting it. His background is in cinematography, and he uses that skill set to create a gorgeous film. Sarah eventually moves from her urban hometown to a rural cabin, and it feels partially like an exercise in crafting gorgeous moments with varying scenery. The script doesn’t sing for me, but Peckham’s craft is solid and Discontinued makes for a good first feature on balance.