Director: Adam Levins
Screenplay: William Borthwick, Simon Fantauzzo
Starring: Amy Manson, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas, James Lance, Nora-Jane Noone, Craig Conway, Simon Quarterman
Running Time: 98 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
On October 19th, Icon Film Distribution and FrightFest, the UK's leading genre film festival, team up to launch FrightFest Presents, an all-new expert driven social community-building label ready to deliver true shocks and scares straight into your home just in time for Halloween and beyond. FrightFest Presents will bring you the most unsettling feature films from the festival; a series of movies that wowed and earned critical acclaim, hand-picked by FrightFest directors Alan Jones and Paul McEvoy. Blueprint: Review are reviewing the first six films being released on the label. Look back through our recent reviews for our thoughts on After Death and Aaaaaaaah!, but for the meantime here's my take on Adam Levins'Estranged.
This British horror/thriller opens with the young couple Jan (Amy Manson) and Callum (Simon Quarterman) getting into a serious bike accident in Brazil. Jan is very badly injured in particular. A blow to the head causes amnesia and she is temporarily wheelchair bound too. Callum gets in touch with her parents and the two of them go back to her family home in the UK. Jan can remember nothing of what happened before the accident, so is shocked to discover her family live in a posh country manor house. Her parents Albert (James Cosmo) and Marilyn (Eileen Nicholas) and adult siblings Laurence (James Lance) and Kathrine (Nora-Jane Noone) are initially thrilled to see her as she had been away for six years. However, there's something strange about Jan's family and she's determined to unlock her past memories, in particular what drove her to abandon her home for such a long time.
The whole amnesia, creepy suspicious family thing has been done before, so right from the offset I got a feeling of deja-vu watching Estranged. It's not the most original of films, but, being partial to a good mystery, I didn't mind too much as I watched it. As soon as you meet Jan's family, you know something's up, so you're quickly drawn into the story.
However, as the film moves on, particularly in the second half after a few truths come out, I found the film less effective. I felt like more could have been made of the mystery in particular. Jan doesn't really do much to actually solve anything. Revelations tend to just sporadically be given to her from other characters. This happens in the finale when a big bomb is dropped on Jan (not literally of course) and what makes matters worse is the information is spluttered out very quickly and to be honest I didn't catch the full details straight away, I had to rewind a bit to straighten it out. So the big 'pulling the rug' moment is rushed and a little wasted. Jan's reaction to this is nicely executed though.
In general the film is well executed actually, which saves it from being just a mediocre take on a fairly common concept. It's classily shot and there are some nice details in the production design, which keeps the huge house looking subtly dilapidated. Manson is strong in the lead role too. The actors playing her family can feel a bit over the top, but this kind of works in creating the unease before you learn the truth. James Lance as the brother annoyed me a bit, but I think it's largely because I couldn't take him seriously once I realised he was in I'm Alan Partridge, one of my favourite comedy series.
Horror fans will be pleased to know that things get nastier as it goes on, although it's more of a thriller than an out and out horror movie. Once the film heads in a darker direction, it relies on being unpleasant and uncomfortable rather than gory or excessively violent.
All in all it's not an exceptional film. Its story feels a little under-baked in terms of solving the mystery, then a bit far fetched once we do learn the truth. It's still quite engrossing though and well produced, so I'd recommend you give it a try if it sounds like your kind of film.
Estranged will be released online on 19th October as part of the first phase of releases on FrightFest Presents.