Carl has had bad nights and bad mornings before. It’s a year since he was released from prison and he no longer drinks. “It sends me off,” he told his date when she asked why he was sticking to soft drinks while she was merrily knocking back the spirits. She should have listened rather than trying to loosen him up by adding a sly dash of vodka to his drink when he was upstairs.
Waking desperately hung over on the sofa the pieces of the night before slowly coalesce, a realisation that things are not what they should be as the blurry fragments and jagged edges of his memory are prompted by the clues he stumbles across, the red lipstick on the rim of a glass, the full ashtray, the broken chair, the dead body in the bathroom…
With images tumbling through the titular Kaleidoscope the opening titles feel almost as though they have fallen out of the seventies, the promises of beauty and purity of Fiona Clifton-Welker’s ethereal harp accompaniment broken as the world shifts and changes as writer/director Rupert Jones invites his audience to climb a winding stairwell of madness, a spirograph trace of insanity which strains against Norman Bates’ observation that a boy’s best friend is his mother.
Recalling his tortured performance in Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2012, Toby Jones’ return to the city five years later is another examination of a deeply troubled man in deep trouble, Carl’s crumbling psyche betrayed by his senses, his memories and the person who should be closest to him.
The ringing phone an object of dread he ignores, the rasping voice on the message left is his estranged mother Aileen (veteran character actress Anne Reid, whose credits stretch from Doctor Who to Dinnerladies to Upstairs, Downstairs), her announcement that she will be in the city and that she will come to see him perceived by Carl more as a threat than a promise of maternal warmth on her part.
Practiced at playing the victim, Aileen inveigles her way into her son’s life, extending her uninvited visit and either oblivious to or perhaps even enjoying Carl’s escalating exasperation. Modern high-rise living doesn’t make getting rid of a body easy even without the complication of mother hanging about on the landing smoking cigarettes and asking awkward questions with infuriatingly fake innocence.
A parade of animosity and resentment, the history which drove them to this point alluded to but never spoken aloud, Jones and Reid are a formidable double act but it is Aileen who is the craftier of the two, a master at manipulation and getting her own way, or is it only Carl’s guilt which makes him think she is offering to be complicit in the lies he told the police if he changes his tune and plays nice with mother?
Kaleidoscope perhaps not quite as unnerving or enthralling as Berberian Sound Studio, an inevitable comparison given the subject and star but necessarily lacking the thematic layering and stylistic flourishes Strickland was able to incorporate by setting his film within a horror studio, Jones’ psychological thriller creates a similar mental maelstrom despite the more restrictive framework of kitchen-sink realism, demonstrating that much can still be achieved with the right script and cast even with minimal resources, the repressive retro decor and architecture anchoring Carl in the past as much as his conscience.
Distribution details of Kaleidoscope are to be confirmed