Every now and then a film will come along that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s not; fact or fiction in the eyes of the characters who seem to exist in their own world and sometimes let us in to witness their darkest, deepest fears, thoughts, emotions and obsessions. Of course the likes of David Lynch spring immediately to mind when discussing the weird, surreal and mind-bending universes that exist in the minds of the most open minded and free thinking film makers. That’s not to say that director Rupert Jones has created something akin to the mysterious world of Twin Peaks with his latest feature, Kaleidoscope, but he has made a film that gives us access into the mind of an intriguing character and his anxieties and actions, and sets it, mostly, in a grotty London flat, making this a dark, gritty and very British head-scratcher.
Toby Jones (The Hunger Games, Berberian Sound Studio, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) plays Carl, a man recently released from prison and trying to move on with his life. He lives in a basic, plain flat and has a job as a gardener. He even has a date with a girl through online dating, which he talks about with a caring neighbour (Cecilia Noble). But it soon becomes clear that the seemingly mild-mannered Carl is harbouring deeper and darker thoughts than he lets on. A great opening scene sets everything up nicely as Carl awakens on his sofa (which he appears to sleep on every night) to the sound of someone knocking on his door. When he answers the door to see nobody there, he goes into his kitchen and looks like he is about to start his day. When his paranoia, mixed with flashbacks, lead him to his bathroom, he makes a shocking discovery. This discovery sets the tone for the rest of the film as Kaleidoscope becomes a dark mystery drama/thriller that plays with its audience’ heads throughout and instils a sense of fear, dread and intrigue that will leave you either engrossed or confused as to what’s actually real and what’s in Carl’s head. Or both of those things.
Carl’s “date” with online match, Abby (Sinead Matthews) is a case in point. What starts as a date becomes darker, as you are thinking about both parties’ intentions (who goes on a date to someone’s flat?) given what we saw in the opening scene, and Abby get texts from someone unknown during this so-called date. As the evening goes on it appears Carls paranoia, anxiety and insecurities get the best of him – but how much of his later actions are in his mind? All this is amplified when he gets a visit from his mother, Aileen (Anne Reid) and it’s not really a welcome visit either as she is quite the domineering mum and her intrusion does Carl’s already complicated mind no favours and helps unleash some deep seated trauma and again, the scene is set for some flashbacks, dream-like sequences and trips into Carl’s mind that lead to possibly fatal consequences for those around him.
That’s not to say that Kaleidoscope overloads you with these sequences. They are pretty well spaced out and never outstay their welcome, and definitely add to the darker nature of the story, Carl’s mind and the film in general. But of course, if it wasn’t for Toby Jones’ powerful yet understated performance the film wouldn’t work at all. Carl is at the centre of everything, and playing a character that probably (almost definitely here) has more going on inside his mind than on the outside and having to control all those emotions, can’t have been easy. Even for an experienced actor like Toby Jones. Here he proves he is something of a national treasure amongst Britain’s finest actors.
The film’s title is taken from the kaleidoscope that Carl sometimes looks into, that he appears to have had since a child. The patterns it creates maybe soothing his mind temporarily but also the changing patterns as you look into and turn the kaleidoscope is a glimpse into his mind; the ever changing patterns representing his thoughts and feelings as his journey progresses throughout the film. Whatever the reasoning, it’s certainly a title as eye-catching and interesting as the film itself.
Overall, Kaleidoscope is a dark, gritty, well written and well made psychological thriller, with strong performances and effective scenes, and moments that are deep, dark and – if you can pay full attention – at times powerful and riveting as well as intense and intelligent. The atmosphere is at times as oppressive as the foreboding block of flats that Carl lives in. That atmosphere and the overall feeling that the film possesses and provides won’t be for everyone, but for what it is, Kaleidoscope might go on to become something of a cult favourite further down the line.