×

Film Review: ‘Malady’

Two lonely souls find each other, but the results are more harrowing than joyful in Jack James' striking debut feature.

With:
Roxy Bugler, Kemal Yildirim, Jill Connick, Gary Cross, Ellen Carter, Nicola Wright.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2602338/

The course of true love is awfully sinister in “Malady,” an intense, impressionistic portrait of two lonely English souls who find one another — though there’s more desperation than joy in their union, and halfway through the introduction of a parental figure drags this already discomfiting tale toward Grand Guignol territory. Short on explication, arguably more cryptic than necessary, this is nonetheless an arresting narrative-feature debut for British helmer Jack James (“A Thousand Faces”). It will prove a challenge in commercial terms, but should stir interest while raising the principal collaborators’ profiles in fest travel and new-director showcases.

Initially scrambling its chronology to a disorienting degree, the pic nonetheless makes its starting point clear: Keeping vigil at her mother’s deathbed, Holly (Roxy Bugler) is urged to go out and find love, having presumably avoided all such prospects during the long illness. She takes that advice with guileless literalism, spying bearded, pallid Matthew (Kemal Yildirim, also a U.K. indie writer-director) through a restaurant window. Almost without exchanging words, these strangers are compulsively drawn into a “one-night stand” that lasts days, its bottomless psychosexual hunger conveyed in blunt physical terms.

When they finally part because Holly has other commitments, she has a tense meeting with an apparent sibling (Gary Cross). He’s strangely hostile and suspicious toward news of her new “boyfriend,” despite their own estrangement until now. “I just want us to be a family,” he says. But she wants no part of him — Matthew is already her entire world, with no room for broken ties from the past.

That rule does not extend to Matthew’s past, however, at least in Holly’s mind. When he repeatedly refuses to answer his phone, she impulsively answers for him, then after a short conversation (unheard by us) reports that his mother is dying and “she needs you.” Matthew is extremely reluctant to go. We soon learn why: Doleful, skeletal Lorelei (Jill Connick) is a terror, who wastes little time before horrifying her son’s mate with tales of drowning pets who “got pregnant without God’s consent.” It’s a short leap from that to her telling Holly: “You’re a creator of evil and a child of Satan.”

It’s unclear whether this woman is a religious fanatic, simply insane, or both. What is clear is that she’s a hurricane of psychological damage that broke Matthew long ago; the last thing he needed was a fresh onslaught. Yet Holly persists in attempting to mediate between them, blinded by her own need for family. This can’t end well, and it doesn’t, leading to a couple of murky, violently transgressive acts.

Fearsomely committed performances by the principals are heightened further by James’ lensing, which is intimate to the brink of distortion — favoring extreme closeups and fields of woozily uneven focus. His astute editing likewise adds considerably to a dislocative, uneasy atmosphere, as does Bradley Oliver-White’s score, whose elements of drone, dissonance and musique concrete sometimes blend with the few cannily selected various-artist tracks.

This aesthetic package’s psychological dimensions are at once vivid and mysterious — an impact that may not fully compensate for those viewers ultimately frustrated by the pic’s stubborn resistance to greater character development/backgrounding, let alone the odd moments when seemingly key dialogue is almost unintelligible. For others, though, the unique clammy force of “Malady’s” claustrophobic bad vibes will outweigh the nagging questions its narrative leaves behind.

Film Review: 'Malady'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, March 6, 2015. (In Cinequest Film Festival.) Running time: 101 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Realist Prods. presentation in association with Brujo Prods. Produced by Jack James, Kemal Yildirim. Executive producers, Lee Whiteway, Gareth Foster, Ben Mullen, Juan Carvajal, Anna Katherine Castrejon, David Valley.

Crew: Directed, written, edited by Jack James. Camera (color, HD), James; music, Bradley Oliver-White; art director, Gareth Haynes; sound, Alexander Scott, Alexander Kelly; assistant director, Gareth Haynes.

With: Roxy Bugler, Kemal Yildirim, Jill Connick, Gary Cross, Ellen Carter, Nicola Wright.

More Film

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

  • Roman Polanski extradition

    Academy Responds to Roman Polanski: 'Procedures Were Fair and Reasonable'

    UPDATE: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has responded to a lawsuit from director Roman Polanski that claimed he was unfairly expelled from the organization behind the Oscars. “The procedures taken to expel Mr. Polanski were fair and reasonable. The Academy stands behind its decision as appropriate,” a spokesperson said. The Academy’s statement [...]

  • Lorraine Warren dead

    Lorraine Warren, Paranormal Investigator Who Inspired 'The Conjuring,' Dies at 92

    Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigator and demonologist whose life inspired franchises like “The Conjuring” and “The Amityville Horror,” has died. She was 92. Warren’s son-in-law Tony Spera confirmed the news. Spera said on Facebook, “She died peacefully in her sleep at home.” He continued, “She was a remarkable, loving, compassionate and giving soul. To quote Will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content