January is forced to return home after six years traveling abroad. A near-fatal accident has left her temporarily wheelchair bound and depleted of her long-term memory.
August 29, 2015
Simon Fantauzzo and William Borthwick
Amy Manson as January
Nora-Jane Noone as Katherine
James Cosmo as Albert
James Lance as Laurence
Eileen Nicholas as Marilyn
Simon Quarterman as Callum
Right off the bat, I can tell you that Estranged is what M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit wanted to be. And with one of the producers behind the Paranormal Activity and Insidious franchises, as well as The Visit itself – one has to wonder why this superior film wasn’t given the royal treatment by one and all. No name recognition – that’s why. And that’s just a tragedy.
January (Amy Mason) was recently in a debilitating motorcycle accident with her boyfriend Callum (Simon Quarterman) while travelling in Brazil. It left her with acute amnesia and no choice but to return to her UK home to allow her family to help care for her. Upon arrival, nothing sparks her memory, and Callum is wholly unwelcomed by her odd family (Dad Albert – played by Braveheart’s James Cosmo, Mom Marilyn – played by Eileen Nicholas, sister Kathrine – played by The Descent’s Nora-Jane Noone and brother Laurence – played by James Lance). It soon becomes apparent that, even in her lesser state of control and memory, that something is not right in January’s childhood home. And something is definitely not right with her family. Questions arise and January begins to have inklings (as well as flashbacks) of the original reasons she left behind her family some six years ago.
Shot in the English countryside, the film’s location is gorgeous and appropriately isolated. You will gradually get clues into why things aren’t ideal in this idyllic estate. There’s just something about the landscapes of the UK which automatically offer mystery. Perhaps it’s the age of the trees or the type of growth or the mist. But UK horror tales have that little extra something you can’t get from horror flicks in other parts of the world. Estranged has a foreboding all throughout – and although the actors and story are top-notch, this ancient home and her lush grounds – add loveliness and a sense of rich history.
Performance is key in Estranged. As our lead character, Amy Manson (most recently recognizable from the television program – Once Upon a Time) recalls the physical likeness of Jessica Harper in Argento’s classic Suspiria. She sells every moment that January is onscreen. She keys in on the frustration of January’s erased memory and takes this handicap into a new place when things in the house grow suspicious and Callum disappears. It’s truly a tour-de-force performance from Manson, as January goes from victim to victim again, until she finally reaches the bottom – before violently taking matters into her own hands – once all of the skeletons begin tumbling from the closet. Manson (and in turn, January) is definitely the heart and soul of Estranged.
Each of the supporting actors bring interesting dimension to their roles. But to pick out the best, you’ll have to take a look at January’s sister Katherine and father Albert. As sister Katherine, Nora-Jane Noone leaves behind her dyke-y character Holly of The Descent and brings an innocence and blind obedience to her role. She’s frumpily dressed and a far cry from Holly. She’s a follower. It’s lovely to see her ecstatic and over-bearing behavior when she cares for her invalid sister, and when her secrets are let out – this obsessiveness over January takes on a more sinister and frankly, sick connotation. Noone hits all the right notes as Katherine – even surprisingly bringing a load of sympathy to the character – despite Katherine’s more questionable actions.
As Albert, the father of this little clan, James Cosmo commands the screen. He’s a large man with wise and mysterious eyes, so as the father – he’s immediately got your attention as the bread-winner and the person in charge. What he says goes. Early on in the film, when he attempts to payoff Callum to disappear from January’s life – all while holding a rifle to “teach” Callum how to hunt for fowl – well, it’s no wonder Cosmo was cast. He’s scary as all hell, and as the film goes on and more about the family is revealed, he continues his character’s climb to frightening heights – culminating in something you won’t see coming, and actions that you certainly won’t enjoy. Had there been a supporting actor category for Screamfest, Cosmo would have had it wrapped up!
But honestly, I’m only pointing out these two supporting actors as they were my personal favorites. But everyone already mentioned – as well as Craig Conway (the lead “crawler” in The Descent) as Thomas, the family’s long-suffering butler – all deliver solid work and each of them has their individual moments to shine. Estranged is definitely an actor’s film.
The big reveal comes relatively early on, thus allowing the story to take you to other treacherous and unsettling places. But we’ll happily go if it means spending more time with this whack-job of a family. It gets quite brutal and the additional revelations are appetizingly striking. In the end, Estranged is a revenge tale – from oh-so many different angles. What’s also lovely (without spoiling anything) is the notion that “family’s that [blank] together, stay together.” Can’t tell you what the blank it, but the fact that everyone in this familial unit are on board with all of the insanity going on, adds a dimension of icky-ness and terror.
While there are a few effective “boo” moments, this is more about the atmosphere of “something’s off” as well as the build as things get worse and January gets better – memory-wise.
It’s a painful climax and one big question is sorely unanswered. I wish I could discuss it here, but you’ll simply have to do the math to figure out what my question is and then determine what you believe to be the answer. Don’t you just love films like that?
Estranged had its Los Angeles premiere at the 15th Annual Screamfest this past week, but sadly walked away with no awards. Don’t let that slight fool you, as so many quality pieces come together to create a very memorable and disturbing thriller. In my humble opinion (and in my wrap-up article) Estranged ranks as the #2 feature shown at this year’s Screamfest. Very worthy of your attention.
No release information is currently available for Estranged, so if my review sparks your fancy, then keep yourself in the know for when the film finds its way to a theatre or DVD near you.