By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Toby Jones, Anne Reid and Sinead Matthews
Written and directed by Rupert Jones
Toby Jones, the familiar British character actor from BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO, THE MIST and many others, teams up with his brother Rupert, making his first narrative feature as a writer/director, to come up with KALEIDOSCOPE, which harks back to a few cinematic antecedents while also offering something new.
That something is a specifically delineated protagonist in a film that is otherwise abstract in its telling of his story. Carl (Toby Jones) is a London gardener and ex-convict who lives in an apartment in a generic tower block and, in the opening scene, is revealed to be sharing it with a young woman’s dead body. The movie then flashes (back? Forward? It’s not immediately evident) to Carl bringing Abby (Sinead Matthews), whom he’s met on-line, into his place for their first face-to-face date. He has done his best to make himself presentable, though there’s awkwardness from the beginning; he’s as withdrawn as she is free-spirited, though he’s not without a sense of humor about himself. “You have a businessman’s face,” Abby says, to which Carl replies, “I’d rather have his wallet.”
He is considerably less good-natured toward his mother Aileen (Anne Reid), who is first heard as a voice on his answering machine and then turns up on his doorstep. At first, Carl seems to be unnecessarily unpleasant toward her, though as KALEIDOSCOPE goes on, it becomes evident that they have long had a psychologically fraught relationship, and that Aileen is not the frail old woman she initially presents herself as. Just what went on in their past is not clear, nor are the circumstances that led to the aforementioned corpse in Carl’s bathroom, and KALEIDOSCOPE presents both its story and backstory in a dramatically splintered manner befitting that title.
Jones, who was memorable as the sound engineer mentally crumbling under external influences in BERBERIAN, here is just as good playing a man with interior demons clawing at his psyche. They have only been exacerbated by Aileen, and Reid is equally fine as the manipulative mom; their scenes together build an uneasy, gripping tension. Matthews scores too as Abby, who’s curious about this odd man who has invited her into his life, and might not like what she ultimately finds out about him.
Writer/director Jones makes quite a bit about Carl and his past/present actions deliberately opaque, along with the question of how much of them have only happened or are happening in his head. He does give us enough to keep us involved and intrigued, and from early on, he demonstrates a clever touch for visually introducing key details. Even scenes in which nothing outwardly scary is going on are charged with danger, thanks to both the performances and the film’s moody craftsmanship. Philipp Blaubach’s cinematography fills Carl’s flat with shadows visually echoing the dark recesses of his mind, and Mike Prestwood Smith, an Oscar-nominated sound artist making his feature debut as a composer, contributes a very effectively disquieting score.
KALEIDOSCOPE takes cues from the filmographies of Alfred Hitchcock (whom Toby Jones played in the BBC/HBO movie THE GIRL) and Roman Polanski, but it’s not a mere pastiche or homage. It’s more a continuation of their tradition, and a worthy addition to the ranks of films that grip your attention by making it hard to get a handle on the central character.
See our interview with Toby Jones about KALEIDOSCOPE here.