It's a question the movies ask again and again: How should a person grieve? In Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson's slow-burn pseudo-mystery Claire in Motion, a talented mathematics professor named Claire Hunger (Betsy Brandt) realizes her amateur survivalist husband Paul (Chris Beetem) might not be coming home from his trip to an Ohio forest. Claire doesn't shed a tear or lash out at her young son Connor (Zev Haworth). Her grief is internalized, managed and controlled, an emotional reflection of her life working with cold, complex numbers. Howell and Robinson go all-in on Claire's measured mourning, and while it may be realistic, that detachment -- along with a relentlessly clinical gray-tinged color palette -- ultimately bogs down whatever momentum Claire in Motion might be working up to.
In the first frames, Paul's kissing Claire goodbye as she's asleep in bed. For three days, life carries on like normal in the small college town — faculty meetings, dinner with the kid, a walk around campus. When Paul doesn't show up on the third night, Claire's jaw sets tight. That's all she'll show of her worry. Later, when she goes to meet Allison (Anna Margaret Hollyman), the new-agey grad student in the art department with whom Paul had been developing a secret friendship, Claire's eyes wander over Allison's kitschy white, sleeveless sweater.
Claire attempts to retrace her husband's final days, but Howell and Robinson never let her linger on the clues, choosing instead to show her sleepwalking through life, her malaise punctuated only by a few tense moments with Allison, who seems to know far too much about Paul.