Psychological horror about a police detective whose sanity begins to unravel as she investigates a series of brutal ritualistic murders.
Sarah Beck Mather
Charismata is a new horror/thriller/cop procedural out of the UK – co-written/co-directed by Tor Mian and Andy Collier.
The film was nominated for several awards at the 4th Annual Filmquest Film Festival in Provo, Utah – where it held its World Premiere. It won two of the eleven awards for which it was nominated (see below).
Police detective Rebecca Faraway (Sarah Beck Mather) is a recent divorcee who is addicted to anti-anxiety meds. She’s also been recently promoted, and right off the bat, she’s involved in her first big investigation – involving a satanic serial killer. At her side is her flirtatious and loyal partner Eli Smith (Andonis Anthony). As she deals with sexism in the office, her asshole ex-husband, trying to offload her expansive home and battle her own inner demons (of which there are many) – her sanity comes into question as the investigation goes deeper and the danger levels rise.
The chemistry between the two lead actors (Sarah Beck Mather and Andonis Anthony) brings to mind such low (and appetizing) rumblings of sexual tension and potential mutual love – like The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully. Both performances start out as pretty much what you’d expect from a work relationship with that tantalizing possibility of more (read: cliched). We don’t get too much more as far as history from Eli (the film is about Rebecca’s journey), but there’s enough to know that he’s a good guy.
The focus is on Rebecca, and Mather delivers a great performance. There are so many levels she brings to Rebecca – making the character feel very well-rounded — if terribly damaged. There could have been an attempt at a tad more sympathy for the character (she can be pretty cold), but it’s an intriguing performance nonetheless. Mather’s best moment comes when she visits a “shaman” where a piece of evidence from one of the murder scenes was originally purchased. It’s later in the film, Rebecca’s dealing with insomnia and possible hallucinations – and her semi-hysterical conversation with the “shaman” is a strong scene for her as an actor.
But it’s Jamie Satterthwaite who is the big scene-stealer in Charismata. In fact, his character’s charisma is probably what helped give the film its name. He’s an attractive guy to be sure, but its his line delivery as real estate developer (and prime suspect) Michael Sweet (gotta love that character name) which will most delight. The character would melt down any potential barriers of any man or woman – and that suave manipulation is key to the character. Satterthwaite nails the smarminess, sexiness and pomposity needed to bring Sweet to life. The character’s ultimate cockiness (exemplified in the film’s climax) is extremely entertaining and engaging.
There’s one scene in the film which was so well done – if there had been a “Best Scene” category at Filmquest – surely this moment would have been a contender. I’ll offer no spoilers, of course – but here’s your clue: It takes place in a police station interrogation room. Don’t worry, there are several of those. You’ll know it when you see it. Beautifully shot and more importantly – all of the characters present – their actions feel justified.
And a sort of secondary scene finds Rebecca trying to fill an expired prescription. A perfect example of why the film won “Best Ensemble for a Feature”. Mather’s great of course, but the actors playing the two pharmacists are hysterical!
With continuous murders fueling the story-line, you can expect plenty of gore. And it’s all well done – particularly the discovery of the film’s first on-screen victim. It’s pretty gross (in a good way!)
Speaking of gross, here’s a bit of trivia – some scenes were filmed in an old WWII bunker (per the filmmakers) and the mention of “rat piss” in the film – was an actual concern in these dripping, decaying rooms. So major kudos to the actors and crew for going the extra mile and getting their work done — in less than appealing conditions. But the bunker looks great, so there’s that.
There’s a wonderful sense of suspense and danger – building up to a unique climax (both in the non-cliche treatment of the film’s heroine and the interesting form of “communication” from an unseen character). There are also a few good “boo” moments which are note-worthy. The film exceeds in creating a gripping and dark atmosphere… until…
Sadly, the film flails in the last scene. And it’s not a small misstep – it’s a big problem. It’s an abrupt ending and feels inorganic to the rest of the film. It’s not remotely satisfying, and were it a better wrap-up, the film would have received a higher score.
The thing is – it feels like these great films with not-so-great endings – are some sort of epidemic. The first one to come to mind from the past year, was Oz Perkins’ The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Like that film, Charismata builds a wonderfully nuanced and delicate sense of danger, chemistry and intrigue – only to fall flat in the film’s final frames. It’s always a disappointment to see things stumble like this. A better ending to an already enjoyable film? Well, think about it. What is the audience being left with – what is our last impression with the film? Exactly.
I hate to be one of those people, but I don’t know exactly what other path or what other brilliant idea I would have used to finish things off – just not… that.
Nominations included Best Feature Film, Best Director (s) for a Feature film – Andy Collier and Tor Mian, Best Lead Actor in a Feature for Andonis Anthony, Best Lead Actress in a Feature for Sarah Beck Mather, Best Supporting Actor in a Feature for Jamie Satterthwaite, Best Feature Cinematography, Best Editing for a Feature (winner), Best Score for a Feature, Best Make-up for a Feature, Best Feature Screenplay and Best Ensemble Cast for a Feature (winner).
Strong performances, creepy atmosphere and some truly awesome sequences – are unfortunately paired up with an impaired ending. Despite this shortcoming, I can still recommend Charismata.
As this was the film’s World Premiere, you can assume that the piece is just beginning its festival run, so stay tuned for further announcements about additional screenings.