What does a kaleidoscope do? It displays disorientating images that are eccentric and kinetic in their style. Does this film do this to the same mesmerising level? Not quite.
Written and directed by Rupert Jones as his first foray into feature length film making, with help from his well-seasoned professional (and brother) Toby Jones. The latter plays the lonely, apartment-dwelling Carl who is a mild-mannered ex-convict. With little action occurring outside of his morbidly beige flat, there is a lot of claustrophobic interaction with our psychologically unreliable main character. After a troublesome night with an out-of-his-league online date (Sinead Matthews), recovering alcoholic Carl attempts to piece together a night that descends into incomprehension after a touch of alcohol and an unsolicited call from his mother (Anne Reid).
Kaleidoscope can be disorientating due to Carl’s fragile state-of-mind which leads to frequent double-guessing and a classic “did that actually happen?” headache that is so common to the genre. However, the film never steps out of the comfort zone of the psychological thriller style and has a lack of originality because of this. It does execute the form well (twist ending included), with a haunting performance from Anne Reid which has a similarly enticing ambiguity to Willem Dafoe’s detective in American Psycho.
Reid and Jones’ chemistry is evident as the toxic nature of their on-screen relationship is slowly unravelled as the narrative moves along. The choice of a child’s toy as the central symbol of the film becomes more revealing as the damage inflicted by Carl’s mother is presented as overwhelmingly ingrained into his psyche. Freud would have a field day with some of the film’s messages, with one scene redefining mummy-issues at the story’s most disturbing point. Toby Jones brings a disturbed energy to his performance, where he teeters expertly between being despicable and empathetic.
Despite these two strong central performances, the film does feel stagnant for significant portions of the duration. The insular setting can become tedious(especially with Carl being a serial snoozer) when the script is at its weakest, but for the most part the interaction between characters smooths over the budgetary restrictions. What the film does well, and perhaps not enough, is utilise the psychedelic power of the kaleidoscope. The best cinematography comes from the extreme close-ups of the toy’s dancing patterns, and the looming staircase which mimics the intoxicating effect of the device.
There are moments of genuine tension thanks to the palpable score,which imitates the sound of a gun reloading in occasionally electric sequences. However, the overall tone of the film feels at points like it would be better suited to a TV movie, or even a play, with only fleeting instances of cinematic goodness.
Rupert Jones has succeeded in making a well thought out genre film, but it is desperately crying out for a bit more edge and excitement. This film is less like a kaleidoscope and more like an Etch a Sketch – grey and repetitive,with sporadic moments of excitement.