'Kaleidoscope': Film Review

Kaleidoscope Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of IFC Films
The riveting performances dominate this Hitchcockian thriller.

Toby Jones and Anne Reid play a warring son and mother in Rupert Jones' dark psychological thriller.

There may be no better actor alive to play a socially maladroit misfit than Toby Jones. It's a fact of which his brother Rupert Jones also seems to be aware, since he's written and directed a terrific vehicle for him. A dark psychological thriller clearly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock (who Jones played so memorably in The Girl), Kaleidoscope, also starring veteran British actress Anne Reid (The Mother), provides juicy opportunities for its leads to deliver tour-de-force performances — and they don't disappoint.

The central character, the middle-aged Carl (Jones), lives on an upper floor of the sort of nondescript middle-income, high-rise apartment building in which you know bad things happen. And they certainly do, as Carl finds out when he discovers the corpse of a young woman in his bathroom. How she got there constitutes the central mystery of the film that takes delight in confounding viewers' narrative expectations.

Shortly into the proceedings, we see ex-con Carl welcoming online date Abby (Sinead Matthews) to his drab apartment. Abby represents a distinct contrast to her unassuming host clad in a tacky shirt that he's borrowed from a friendly neighbor (Cecilia Noble). Vivacious, a hard drinker and a smoker, she invites Carl to dance but he can only manage to stiffly move his body in various directions.

Not long afterwards, Carl receives a visit from his mother, Aileen (Reid), with whom he clearly doesn't have the best of relationships. The ensuing encounter, not surprisingly, doesn't go at all well, with the hostile Carl angrily reacting to his mother's attempts to be conciliatory.

"Maybe I should take you both out, for a treat," Aileen offers when Carl tells her that he's seeing someone.

"A little late for that," he calmly replies. "I told her you were dead."

The narrative, as fragmented as the images seen in the symbolic childhood toy that gives the film its title, will prove frustrating for viewers interested in easy answers. But the reality-bending storyline proves less important than the tense, paranoiac atmosphere and the riveting interplay between Carl and both his unfortunate date and his overbearing mother. Jones brings remarkable shadings to his character, managing to at once be creepily off-putting and sympathetically vulnerable. He's superbly matched by Reid, who also delivers a fascinatingly enigmatic turn, and Matthews, whose character also turns out to be more complex than she initially appears.

Director/screenwriter Jones displays an ability to sustain simmering tension that's impressive for someone directing only his second feature film. The excellent technical elements add greatly to the overall effect, from Philipp Blaubach's claustrophobic cinematography to Adrian Smith's effectively colorless production design to Mike Prestwood Smith's unsettling musical score. 

Production companies: Dignity Film Finance, Longships Films, Stigma Films
Distributor: IFC Films
Cast: Toby Jones, Anne Reid, Sinead Matthews, Deborah Findlay, Karl Johnson, Cecilia Noble
Director-screenwriter: Rupert Jones
Producers: Maggie Monteith, Matthew James Wilkinson
Executive producers: Chris Reed, Phil Rymer
Director of photography: Philipp Blaubach
Production designer Adrian Smith
Editor: Tommy Boulding
Costume designer: Suzie Harman
Composer: Mike Prestwood Smith

100 minutes