Thursday, 29 June 2017

Kaleidoscope: EIFF Review

I check out Toby and Rupert Jones's 'modern day Psycho after the jump!

Like all the best Shakespeare characters, Kaleidoscope is a compelling but injured beast. Despite being an at times intriguing and hallucinogenic head-trip; its downfall comes in the form of three fatal flaws that undermine Rupert Jones’s vision in almost every conceivable way. The plot concerns an ageing and reclusive man, who seeks solace in a dating website. However, on the evening of his first meetup, a call with his estranged mother sets things tumbling down the rabbit hole. The three problems, as if the three witches of Hamlet, are thus:

A pretty infuriating character...
The first: a dearth of likeable or relatable characters. Toby Jones’s lead, Carl, is frustratingly meek, disgustingly perverted, and has almost certainly committed despicable crimes in his past. His mother, played by Anne Reid, is overbearing, selfish, and potentially incestuous. His internet girlfriend (Sinead Matthews) is a disingenuous thief, with clear ulterior motives. And her husband (Frederick Schmidt) is violent, menacing, and a clear antagonist. There is nobody here to actually care about: certainly, Carl is the vulnerable character to hand – but like the trademark ‘annoying autistic kid’ that filmmakers use too often, the audience end up hating him for his total inadequacy and his creepy old-man menace.

The second: a persistent atmosphere of unnecessary confusion. With the initial problem already in play – being that we don’t care about the cast – any mystery that presents itself in Kaleidoscope leads to audience apathy and disillusionment with the premise. Unfortunately, on those lines, the major bulk of the movie (I’m talking over ¾ of the runtime) is pure confusion. At all points we have no idea who is in Carl’s house (if anyone); who’s been killed (if anyone); and who he’s speaking to (if anyone). What makes this worse is that there are no actual clues as to which version of events is the ‘true’ record of what happened. So, essentially, what we have is an hour and 20 minutes of indecipherable hallucination (without the usual visual pleasures of hallucination) by a character we don’t care about in an uninteresting location (it takes place solely in Carl’s flat) that we don’t have any chance of figuring out. Unfortunately, this is the central conceit of Kaleidoscope – something which cannot be transcended entirely by any positive aspects of Jones’s direction.

That shirt tho
The third: an ending that is far too simple. If Kaleidoscope ended on an ambiguous note, then perhaps I could exonerate some of its issues. It could become a talking point for theorising and analysing the story to decide what was real and what was false – in the same way that Blade Runner has been a talking point for decades. But, in denial of this, Jones throws in a relatively easy ending that unravels the entire mystery in a second. It’s not a big reveal, as there was no build-up of clues to begin with; but it causes significant problems: it invalidates all of the opaque puzzling that came before – as it is no longer necessary to figure out the true version of events. It creates some unimpressive continuity errors in its wake which leaves the film logically deficient.

So, dear readers, here’s your ultimatum: are you willing to sit through 2 hours of impossible mystery, with a host of characters whom you don’t care about? If, indeed, you are, you might find some things to like amidst the chaos. For a start, although the characters are themselves despicable, the performances put in by all three of the main leads are absolutely stunning – with Jones’s incapable old man deserving of special attention. There’s also pleasure to be had at points in the way the narrative unravels spectacularly – especially earlier on when we begin to realise that nothing is as it seems. It would have been nice to see these feelings directed into a second act that went somewhere; but even though they don’t, their existence is undeniable.

And, indeed, the cinematography on show (courtesy of Philipp Blaubach) can be very impressive. For the majority, the shots of the interior of Carl’s house are rather uninteresting. However, in repeated scenes revolving around staircases and bending around his high-rise, there’s a real hypnotic style that’s pleasing and weirdly disturbing at the same time. The film also contains what must surely be my favorite shot of the festival: the camera slowly zooms out of a pristine kaleidoscopic image to emerge from the rusty tube of the kaleidoscope itself, and then zooms back in at a completely different angle to show complete darkness. What an inspired and interesting moment that was: something of an oasis in a dry desert.

The makers of Kaleidoscope like to describe their film as a modern-day Psycho; but only thematic similarities abound between that masterpiece and the muddled mess that they’ve given us. I admit, there’s a head-scratching pleasure to the incessant trippiness on show here - it’s just that there’s no reason to care about the outcome; and no clues to bring us there in style. 

Kaleidoscope gets 3 stars1

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