United Kingdom. Directed by Adam Levins, 2015. Starring Amy Manson, James Cosmo, James Lance. 101 minutes. 5/10
Dysfunctional family relationships often prove fertile ground for psychological thrillers, with first-time director Adam Levins providing his take on the trope in Estranged. Amy Manson (Being Human U.K., Once Upon a Time) stars as January, a young woman left wheelchair-bound and amnesiac by a motorcycle accident, returning home with her boyfriend Callum (Simon Quarterman) to a family she hasn’t seen in six years and has no memory of. I probably don’t need to tell you that the family has some huge skeletons in their closet…the biggest being the reason January left in the first place.
The screenplay, by William Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo, has the requisite twists and turns and gothic trappings (long-buried secrets, huge mansions), not to mention the occasional scene of genuine shock. Unfortunately, I occasionally found the plot a bit hard to follow; not incoherent, exactly, but I never shook the feeling that there were things I should have figured out before the characters did. There were times when the plot seemed needlessly complex and the pacing and editing seemed somewhat off. It seemed to me as if Levins had problems developing the narrative effectively.
While his storytelling has issues, Levins has a keen visual sense. The interior sequences, in particular, work very well, with the mansion’s massive, cavernous spaces generating a sense of foreboding. He also works the cast very well, with Manson breezing through an emotional range and keeping Jan sympathetic even when her behavior becomes difficult. But the real star of the show is James Cosmo (better known as Jeor Mormont on Game of Thrones) as Albert, the family patriarch, who deftly maneuvers his role from “stern” to “menacing” with nary a hitch. James Lance also makes quite an impression as Laurence, Jan’s slimy brother.
Unfortunately, I can’t find much else to say about Estranged–perhaps it simply caught me on a bad day–and that could be its biggest problem: despite the film’s strong visuals and cast, it’s simply not very memorable, and its shortcomings stick out in my mind more than its strengths. I wouldn’t advise people to steer clear of it, but I can guarantee I’m going to have a difficult time remembering it in a month or so.