Estranged (2016)

estrangedJanuary is forced to return home after six years traveling abroad. A near-fatal accident has left her temporarily wheelchair bound and depleted of her long-term memory. She is accompanied by her boyfriend ‘Callum’ whom she met whilst traveling. He was also the driver in the fateful accident. Not only has she forgotten her family, but her childhood as well and is surprised to discover that her home is a stately manor in the middle of the country-side. As January tries to settle in, she finds herself becoming even more estranged from her family, who just want their daughter back. The trouble is, she cannot remember who that daughter was, or why she ran away in the first place. Desperate to discover why she left all those years ago and with Callum’s help, she sets out to find the truth. They soon discover the family are not as loving as they seem to be. Was there a dark reason why she left them in the first place?

Another one of those insanely long IMDB summaries,  and honestly it could have done with substantially less. This basically gives you the entire plot prior to the “big reveal”. This is one of the better made horror films released this year, and it even has some pretty engaging performances, but these things unfortunately don’t save it from some of the bigger issues that come across.

This one was directed by cinematographer Adam Levins, and was his feature debut. His background as a cinematographer shines here, and he really does build scenes pretty effectively. He also had the added bonus of having Gary Shaw as a cinematographer, the Director of Photography on the 2009 sci-fi Moon. So, the movie works quite well on a visual level. The house that much of the film is shot in is almost impossible huge, and makes for a great location as well.

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Where the film falls down is in it’s story, and the screenplay as a whole. This was written by Simon Fantauzzo and Willliam Borthwick, who have created a bit of a bizarre story that doesn’t feel like a cohesive piece of work. Right from the start, January’s family is strange and sinister, there’s not really a time where anyone could believe that there isn’t something horrible happening in this house. From their arrival in the house, it’s clear that January is in danger, and Callum isn’t long for this world. It’s unfortunate, because the story and writing is really where the movie falls down. It’s never entirely clear what the plan is, and it becomes less clear and more convoluted as the film rolls on. Part of it, apparently, involves the patriarch of the family impregnating January in one of the more disturbing and unnecessary scenes in the movie.

There are some great performances in Estranged as well, though the characters seem to be defined as “Act Strange” and not a whole lot else. Craig Conway (The Descent, Dog Soldiers) plays the families butler, who almost seems to be working for a different family from the 1800s, and gives a lot of wayward glances to January as if to say “nothing weird going on here”. The aforementioned January is played by Amy Manson (Torchwood) who does a fine job, all things considered, and Simon Quartermain (The Devil Inside) almost has nothing to do in his role as Callum and at one point just vanishes from the film, falling victim to one of the crazies. Also starring are James Cosmo (Trainspotting), James Lance (Bronson), Eileen Nicholas (The Quiet Ones), and Nora-Jane Noone (The Descent) who all do fine jobs.

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All told there’s plenty to like about this movie, but there’s more that doesn’t work. It’s too bad, because with a better script and some better special effects this might have worked a bit better. Overall though, it just didn’t do anything for me. Perhaps one of the more unoffensive bad movies of 2016, but it’s nothing special either. Check it out if you want, but keep your expectations in check.

My Rating: **

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