After a handful of short films and a codirecting credit, Kaleidoscope is the powerhouse solo directing debut from Rupert Jones starring the fantastic Toby Jones (his brother) and a career best turn from veteran talent Anne Reid.
Toby Jones has already made a name for himself in the thriller genre. 2012’s Berberian Sound Studio dropped him in the maddening world of horror movie sound design. Kaleidoscope is a similarly disorientating slow-burn psycho-thriller with a consummate, though entirely different, approach to splintering mind states.
In many ways, Jones’ film feels like a bastardized British classic, cosey but jarring. Kaleidoscope is a potent mix of classic and contemporary drama, thriller, and horror tropes. The lonely man in the high-rises who meets girls online and has a potentially incestuous/murderous relationship with his mother. It feels like an updated Robert Bloch script; shocking and ever-so-slightly-out-of-date. But then that’s quite purposeful. The whole film feels old, from the dated mise on scene of the flat to the characterizations of both Carl and his broody mother, Aileen. Its not simply a retro-fitted feature, it’s a film about the past coming back to haunt us, from script to style.
And come back it most certainly does. Everything about Kaleidoscope is uncomfortably nostalgic. Toby Jones is perfectly cast as a middle-aged loner decked out in his dad’s old clothes. The flat looks like its not been updated since the 70s. Philipp Blaubach’s cinematography is gorgeous, ambitiously constructing moments of near-giallo exuberance side-by-side with the sulky shadows of a Brit-Noir. Rupert Jones’ script is open to interpretation, but never feels loose or misdirected. Its a tight and tense journey start to finish, peppered with understated jolts of shock.
Toby Jones is suitably perfect, as always. But Kaleidoscope’s true smoking gun is the quietly acidic performance of Anne Reid. Reid, recognizable from her prolific career in classic British TV (including a long stint on Coronation street), steps into gear as the initially pathetic, eventually unnerving, mother to Jones’ loser. There’s something of Norma Bates about her, like if Norman hadn’t had the guts to kill her and instead just disowned her. We’re never sure exactly what has happened but the atmosphere is dense and past traumas sneak through in subtle ways.
The film’s dedication to disorientation proves its most potent tool. Life is clumsy and unlucky happenstance allow for bizarre interpretations. Tensions mount and mount but straight-faced reveals blur the line between fact and fiction. The scares never come when you expect and always spawn from the most mundane details. Its a consummate head-fuck and a stylish one to boot, perfectly formed and performed.
In Kaleidoscope, Rupert Jones has constructed a pitch-perfect psychological thriller. Easily one of the most unique British films of recent years.
Dir. Rupert Jones
Stars. Toby Jones, Anne Reid, Sinead Mathews, Deborah Findlay, Karl Johnson