Kaleidoscope review Toby Jones stillYear: 2016 (2017 US release)
Director(s): Rupert Jones
Writer(s): Rupert Jones
Rating: n/a
Color, 100 mins

Synopsis: A psychological thriller about the destructive relationship between a middle-aged man and his mother. (Source)

It’s almost unfair to say anything about Kaleidoscope before someone’s seen it. Rupert Jones’ head trip crawls under our skin and is an enigma steeped in psychological terror. True to its title, the film twists and folds in on itself, colorful but deceitful and daring us to solve its riddles before its too late. Still, for all the style the film has, Jones’ minimalist ingenuity gives way to a damning portrait of fear, violence and trauma, illustrating how the past can be hard to escape, and that our mind is the greatest prison of them all. In conjunction with Toby Jones’ near one man show, Kaleidoscope is small thriller with big ideas, one that stares into the deepest, blackest corners of our own fears and frailties.

On a day that could be any other, Carl (Toby Jones) awakes to an incessant knocking on the door. Startled, he gets up, but no one is outside. There’s lipstick on one of his glasses, a woman’s bag on the table, and a broken chair at the bottom of his stairs. Following a trail of disorder, Carl goes upstairs and into his bathroom, and that’s when he sees it. There’s a dead woman propped up against the wall, and he has no recollection of how she got there – at least not yet. Scrambling to cover up any evidence of a crime, Carl combs through his memories, remembering a first date, an unwanted call from a mother whom he hates and how the night before went so wrong, so fast. When his mother Aileen (Anne Reid) arrives out of the blue, Carl’s sent even further down a rabbit hole of remorse and torment, breaking his already fragile mind and threatening to unravel him for good.

In a lot of ways, Jones’ murder mystery unfolds like a ghost story, not one about supernatural ghouls, but about the memories of our past that follow us wherever we go. Taking this into account, Jones presents the plot in a sensory way, doling out clues as tangents brought on by emotional or alliterative stimuli. With Carl’s disheveled apartment and psyche stringing a spider web around his torment, Jones keeps us guessing, charting Carl’s struggles in non-linear form through splintering memories that may or may not have happened. Another asset to the film is its patience, allowing quiet dread to slowly rise above Carl’s prolonged decent into mania, so that each moment gets its chance to breathe. All of this goes a long way, turning a story with familiar elements into an intimate whodunit with paranoid flourishes and hauntingly human implications.

Kaleidoscope review Toby Jones still 2There are really only a trio of performances here, and while they’re all integral, it’s Toby Jones who anchors the film. As Carl, Jones is meek and reserved, an ex-con whose devastating past is about to catch up with him. Even as the film is constantly shifting and transforming, it’s Jones who keeps everything together, making Carl’s inner turmoil feel urgent and helping to make the stakes clear and present – he clarifies the emotion of any given moment in the most naturalistic way. Opposite, Anne Reid’s Aileen is a nice element of unpredictability, threatening to to send Jones’ fragile Carl deeper into his own insecurities. Lastly, Sinead Matthews’ Abby is never who she seems, delivering a character who shifts depending on context or perspective.

Kaleidoscope is elevated by Rupert Jones’ fresh voice and ability to transform repressed fears into a surreal narrative. Where the film really comes alive, are the evocative human flourishes that seep from every twist and turn, allowing for a good balance between style and meaning. This is also a great vehicle for Toby Jones’ harried Carl, who brings complexity to a sordid story to find empathy despite dark implications. At its best, Jones’ atmospheric film breaks the mold, and is a gem that sparkles within a genre that’s oft-times too predictable.