The Fold: Film Review

Marina Stoimenova in "The Fold"
This tale of grief, obsession and transference has notes of grace, but is let down in the end by trite plotting and clumsy direction.

Underused British actress Catherine McCormack stars as a woman priest living in picturesque Cornwall drawn to a Bulgarian immigrant who reminds her of her dead daughter.

The Fold opens with an epigraph, which gives the film its title, from one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s most beautiful and enigmatic poems: “I want to unfold./I don’t want to stay folded anywhere,/because where I am folded, there I am a lie.” It’s not exactly all downhill after that, but let’s just say John Jencks, a producer making his directorial debut here, is not exactly cinema’s answer to Rilke. This faintly creepy tale of a woman priest drawn to a Bulgarian immigrant who reminds her of her dead daughter has moments of shimmering grace, especially in the early stages, but the script by Poppy Cogan thrashes like a drowning woman over the long haul and Jencks can’t resuscitate it. Getting a very small release in the U.K., this is unlikely to scrunch much cash into the pocket of its distributor, but festivals offshore may bring it into the fold.

A spooky opening of eerily still shots reveals the fully-clothed corpse of a young woman (Kate Hollowood) lying on the bottom of swimming pool, seemingly, to judge by vague hints and intimations later on, a suicide. Eleven months later, her mother Rebecca Ashton (Catherine McCormack, making a welcome return after a four-year absence to feature films), a priest in the Anglican Church, is still struggling to cope with the tragedy. Rebecca has accepted a position at a small church in Cornwall, and moves into the inconceivably picturesque seaside cottage with her surviving 18-year-old daughter Eloise (Dakota Blue Richards, the star of the ill-fated franchise non-starter The Golden Compass), a budding classical violinist. Edward (Owen Teale), Rebecca’s husband, can’t join them yet as he must finish up a contract back in their old hometown, but visits at weekends.

Apparently not much of a people person, despite the nature of her job, the rather aloof Rebecca goes through the necessary motions of settling into the community. Her thoughts dwell more on her dead daughter, Alice, judging by frequent flash-cuts to the aforementioned scene of the tragedy. But then Rebecca starts to take notice of Radka (Marina Stoimenova), a young Bulgarian woman who resembles Alice and works in the local daffodil fields harvesting flowers. Scars on her wrists hint at a history of self-harming or worse, and Rebecca is moved by a desire to help the girl, or perhaps by some other kind of longing, maybe sexual.

Using local youth-center worker Daniel (Oliver Dimsdale) as an intermediary, Rebecca starts tutoring Radka for an English exam so that the young woman can qualify for a local art school. As the two of them become more intimate, Eloise drifts further away from her mother, fascinated by the folk music played by some of the immigrant workers at the encampment where Radka has been staying. A strapping blond Polish lad named Lukas (Jakub Gierszal) also seems to draw her eye. Radka, meanwhile, starts sleeping at Rebecca’s church, and one night Rebecca comforts the distressed girl and falls asleep chastely beside her, but when they’re discovered in the morning lying together a scandal starts to brew.

There are potentially interesting elements and themes at play here. Perhaps unintentionally the film evokes Vertigo a little in the way bereaved Rebecca feels compelled to save Radka as some sort of cosmic redress for whatever way she failed to save Alice, although the motivations are rather murky. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if the film followed through and went full-on arthouse ambiguous, but instead the last act swerves off into cheap thriller territory, with stabbings and surf-pounded struggles and tears of recrimination. Meanwhile, the B-plot involving Eloise goes nowhere really and feels like the vestiges of a longer arc that got lost somewhere in the edit. Likewise, the theological aspect is oddly underutilized, except as an excuse to include a rather magical scene in another church featuring a boy soprano, whose voice is actually that of the soundtrack’s composer, Donna McKevitt.

McCormack, at least, is good throughout, and gutsy in her refusal to make the character warmer or more easily likeable. There’s a ruthless streak about her Rebecca, detectable in the way she ferociously sucks on her cigarettes, carving out further the actor’s trademark cheekbones with every puff. Richards is well cast as her daughter, and makes good on the promise she showed in The Golden Compass, although the character is underserved by the script. It’s unfortunate that Stoimenova doesn’t have the range or screen presence for the crucial role of Radka.

Luke Palmer’s cinematography takes advantage of the Arri Alexa’s high resolution capacity to show off the spectacular Cornish landscapes, although some lighting set-ups and the framing at times suggest he thought he was making another film altogether, perhaps one with more supernatural elements.