Undone (2019) - TV Series Review
Rating: 3.5 Stars
IMDB: 8.3 Metacritic: 88
Rosa Salazar stars as Alma in Undone, an Amazon original series about a woman who appears to become disconnected from the linear flow of time after a near-death car accident. Undone is at its best when it achieves a balance between the realism of family drama and the fantasy of her new disassociation from time. While not always successful, it manages to be engaging thanks to satisfying visuals and strong performances.
Undone’s defining trait is its impressive use of rotoscoping, an animation technique which involves drawing over frames captured from live actors while creating sets and backgrounds in post-production. This blending of reality and fantasy, both thematically and within the visual style, produces a sense of surrealism which connects the viewer to Alma’s decreasing grasp on her present. The style makes it possible to achieve visuals which would otherwise be impractical with live action. Transitions between scenes take full advantage of Alma’s new perception as scenes construct or deconstruct based on distortions and accelerations of time. The impermanent backgrounds are given a weight through the use of real actors and props while small shifts in facial expressions and idiosyncratic movements firmly ground the characters in reality. This can become distracting when the animation overlying characters shifts disproportionately with the camera, however this does become unnoticeable after a short while. Ultimately, the excellent use of rotoscoping perfectly complements the plot and elevates the themes of the show.
Thematically we can approach the show through the lens of Alma exploring her new powers, or through the lens of her family viewing her descent into psychosis. The latter is increasingly the focus of the show and by far the more interesting of the two. While mental illness is often used as a foil to supernatural powers in media, it is given a sharper focus in Undone. Her powers involve a change in her perception rather than her abilities. As this new perspective exists within her own mind, it is presented as equally possible that she is suffering from a form of delusional disorder rather than possessing superpowers. One of the more interesting ways to view Undone is as an exploration of mental illness from the point-of-view of a person with psychosis and how they may justify their own perceived reality as objective reality. The show does occasionally falter when it loses the balance between the real and supernatural components. Some episodes are bogged down with excessive family drama while many of the more technical aspects of time travel are not explored visually but rather through exposition. Despite this, when Undone combines these elements successfully it manages to capture a surreal vision caught halfway between reality and fantasy.
That being said, Undone’s greatest strength is undoubtably its visuals. Despite being interesting enough to keep you engaged across its eight episodes, there is nothing that special about the plot or characters. The successful blending of animation and live action however is executed beautifully, and perhaps in time could be adapted to future projects that require more realism than is possible with animation and more creativity than is possible with classic film.