(director/writer: Romola Garai; cinematographer: Laura Bellingham; editor: Alastair Reid; music: Sarah Angliss; cast: Alec Secareanu (Tomaz), Anah Ruddin (Mother), Carla Juri (Magda), Imelda Staunton (Sister Claire), Angeliki Papoulia (Miriam), Paul O’Kelly (Paul Builder), Amanda Quach (Girl At The Pub), Tom Bennett (Battle-Worn Soldier), Jacqueline Roberts (Doctor), Elowen Harris (Dina), Joseph Akubeze (Laborer), William E. Lester (Voice of mother); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Matthew James Wilkinson, Maggie Monteith; Magnet Releasing; 2020-UK)
“It’s a promising film for a promising director, one who still hasn’t arrived but has been noticed.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The feature film debut as a writer-director for Romola Garai, a British actress-turned-filmmaker, is a good one despite a misguided slow pace she uses to get to her horror story. Ms. Garai turns in an intelligent horror film that’s worth seeing alone for its brilliant photography (of the lush country colors compared to the bleak city colors) by Laura Bellingham. If you may, it’s a disquieting psychological mood film rather than a scare film. It tells about an accidental flophouse fire forcing a highly educated refugee, an ex-soldier (it’s not clear from what civil war), living in London, Tomaz (Alec Secareanu, Romanian star), to be homeless. He’s offered a room by a friendly nun (Imelda Staunton), in an old moldy home, falling apart, where he will help a lonely and dour young woman, Magda (Carla Juri), fix it up while she cares for her terminally ill mysterious dying mother (Anah Ruddin) who is confined to the attic.
After Tomaz moves in, he begins a cautious relationship with Magda, while his head is filled with flashbacks of the war when he was a border guard and how his once promising life has lost its spark.
It’s a slow burn film, one that turns increasingly sinister as suddenly inexplicable and ugly things start happening, and by its third act all sorts of things get thrown into the narrative. The horror comes at the viewer much too fast to take it all in at once, as the young woman seems to be enslaved to do the bidding in the other world of her rage-filled mother (as its questionable execution shows Ms. Garai’s talent but also her inexperience as a director).
Even with fine performances by the entire cast, their characters are thinly drawn–which means we fail to care enough about them as things become more affecting. Still, despite such faults, it remains a curious film, one with a feminist twist, plus one with plenty of ideas and surprises.
It’s a promising film for a promising director, one who still hasn’t arrived but has been noticed.
REVIEWED ON 8/2/2020 GRADE: B-