Scream Horror Magazine

ESTRANGED: Film Review

Posted on: October 21st, 2015

After a terrible accident abroad renders January wheelchair-bound and suffering from amnesia, she heads ‘home’ to reunite with her estranged family who are now a complete mystery to her. With a boyfriend they’ve never met in tow, she’s faced with a vast, rundown British countryside mansion she doesn’t remember in which to convalesce. Under many watchful eyes she starts on a long road to recovery, but it’s clear her parents, 2 odd siblings and a sinister butler are less than overjoyed to see her back after she left the residence some 6 years before in mysterious circumstances.

Moving back in with your parents as an adult is rubbish. Amongst my MANY house moves, I had a brief stint back with the folks, and while I love the very bones of the wrinkly Barnes duo, it’s not an ideal scenario for anyone involved. Thankfully, we only had to step on each other’s toes for a fortnight and I was of able body and mind, but in director Adam Levins’ ESTRANGED something is festering, and it’s not only our lead character’s functions or the knackered old house that are in need of some serious restoration.

Although the full extent of January’s dilemma isn’t easily predicted, I must admit I did have the very basics worked out by the time she’d unpacked and eaten her first family meal, loaded with awkward looks and biting criticism. You see, ESTRANGED’s premise reads and initially feels as tired as its secluded manor’s décor, and in the wrong hands could plummet quickly into the realms of farcical. A largely contrived screenplay by William Borthwick and Simon Fantauzzo flirts with disappointment, but gratefully, Levins’ restraint keeps the film afloat. There are very few tricks or gimmicks. In fact, the effects we do get for flashback purposes seem to cheapen the mood slightly, with trendy, choppy editing and corny filters. However, no matter how trite the plot becomes, our director doesn’t allow the clichés to overpower the real standout quality here: the cast. Instead, he allows them all the time to shift their characters away from stereotypical and towards genuinely odd, which pulls us slowly back from the brink of total predictability and pushes us confidently down a twisting (and sometimes unspeakably brutal, yet tactfully executed) path.

Cosmo is at his simmering, imposing best (a slo-mo scene in which he rounds a corner, incomprehensibly ranting, nearly stopped my fucking heart!), while Nicholas chills as ol’ confused mummy, forever staring through us into the distance beyond. James Lance steals any scene he’s in as piece-of-shit slimeball brother, Laurence, while the gorgeous Nora-Jane Noone’s sweet, naïve sister compliments him perfectly – neither has been better, and their dashing looks a clever distraction from the dangerous undercurrent threatening to drag Manson’s likable lead under.

ESTRANGED doesn’t break the mould. Plus, its setting and “wealthy family gone wrong” angle makes it difficult not to summon images of Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others or Chan-wook Park’s Stoker – both far superior films – but Levins’ control and inspired casting help pull the whole thing together into a satisfying, purposely unpleasant affair, and by allowing everything to breath (except me during a particularly shocking Ale Cellar scene!) he’s created a nifty, gripping little thriller.

Chris Barnes (@TheBlueTook)

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