It was a tragedy for which no one was directly responsible though Sofia blames herself, her husband Alex struck a glancing blow by a car and suffering a traumatic head injury which has left him barely able to dress or feed himself, stubborn and prone to mood swings; losing patience with the doctors who have made no progress in a year, she takes him from the hospital to his childhood home.
Hoping something may be triggered by memories and associations, instead what Sofia finds among the gardens of the estate is Alex’s overfamiliar cousin Mags, the overbearing groundskeeper Brookes who believes God will give her the answers she needs, and in an upstairs room the self-portrait by Calvin DeBose, Alex’s notorious grandfather whose history of misogyny and violence has ensured his reputation remains alive decades after his disappearance.
Directed by Simon Ross from a script by David Griffiths, The Portrait dominates Sofia (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Natalia Cordova-Buckley), a presence more pronounced than that of her non-verbal husband Alex (Glorious’ Ryan Kwanten) whom she struggles to keep track off as he shuffles about unsupervised, the large house ostensibly occupied by a couple but Sofia effectively alone in the silence of the spacious rooms with her regrets and a continuous supply of vodka, grieving for a lost husband who is still alive.
The portrait becoming her sounding board, her confessor, she can’t be disappointed or let down when the pigment and canvas fail to respond, projecting onto it whatever emotional response she wishes, the violence of the brush strokes speaking of the enigmatic man who created it whom Sofia begins to feel as a presence in the house other than the ever-present Brookes (The Passage‘s Mark-Paul Gosselaar), lurking in the bushes seeking opportunity.
Is she being watched, or is it just Mags (Candyman’s Virginia Madsen) spying on her through binoculars from the top of the hill, a distraction from torturing Esther (Steffie Baik), submissive junior partner in a toxic relationship whom she sends to Sofia with clippings detailing the grim history of the house and all the unexplained deaths which have occurred within its walls, or is Sofia falling into the shadows of her own mind as much as Alex has already done?
The setting suitably moody and shadowed despite the California sunshine just outside and the ensemble excellent with their quirks, resentments and manipulations, if anything The Portrait suffers from too many ideas without a clear picture of how to blend them into a cohesive whole, the substance suffering from the lack of form in which they are presented and opting for a lowest common denominator finale rather than something artfully ambitious, a sketched outline rather than a finished masterpiece.
The Portrait will be available on digital download from Monday 11th December