FrightFest Presents VOD film review: Estranged
Appeal to FrightFest fans7
Appeal to others1
Ian Loring | On 20, Oct 2015
Director: Adam Levins
Cast: Amy Manson, James Cosmo, James Lance
Watch Estranged online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Virgin Movies / TalkTalk / Eircom / Volta / Xbox / Sky Store / Rakuten TV / Google Play / TheHorrorShow.tv
The idea of FrightFest as a brand to represent your film in the marketplace must be an exciting one for horror filmmakers. The UK’s most successful genre film festival has a lot of cache both in the industry and with the genre-watching public – as passionate an audience as you could hope for. This carries a sense of heightened expectation: if the “FrightFest Presents” label is being put on a film, it makes it stand out against the ever-increasing swamp of VOD horrors fighting for their place. It is also risky for FrightFest themselves; if the films aren’t all that much cop, what does it say about the level of their seal of approval? Enter Estranged, which, while certainly not scraping the bottom of the barrel, offers little fulfilment.
The movie starts promisingly, a look at the potential horror of meeting your in-laws and discovering things about your loved one’s family that take you by surprise. Add to this a sense of loving obligation felt by Callum (Simon Quarterman) after a road accident cripples his partner, January (Amy Manson), and you have the makings of a rather promising small-scale domestic drama with family members who feel just a bit off-centre. Father Albert (James Cosmo) rules the family with a strict but recognisable zeal, mother Marilyn (Eileen Nichols) gives off the sense of being silently unhappy, and brother and sister Laurence (James Lance) and Kathrine (Nora-Jane Noone) are resentful and brooding in their dealings with January. When the full machinations of the plot haven’t been fully uncovered in its first act, the interactions are interesting in a melodramatic sense; tension bubbles under the surface as strained interactions conjure a sense that maybe nothing sinister is going on. Perhaps this is just a family in close-quarters all being a bit strange together.
The trouble is that this doesn’t last for long: by the end of the first act, the narrative has moved in such a way that there is no questioning who is going to be the antagonist(s) and it’s just a matter of time before things get revealed. When they do, the film then alternates between revelations, torture of some sort and escape attempts, with director Adam Levins piling on pitch black comedy and moments of violence to try and keep the attention, instead of slowly twisting the knife, an aspect which works well in the film’s opening 20 minutes or so. A sense of grubbiness pervades, which is probably intentional but just isn’t as involving as it wants to be and the third act resorts to twists being explained in the most direct, frankly boring, ways before some killing finishes things off. If it sounds derivative, that’s because it is.
In fairness, the cast all try their best. James Lance gets the level of ham just about right, although his somewhat pun-ny nature gets tiresome and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, and Nora-Jane Noone does a nice line in being a little sister, both adoring and resentful of January and never going too overboard with it. Amy Manson also does solid work with what starts off as an interesting character yet turns into your typical horror girl by the end. Estranged knows its place and its position within the FrightFest brand: a standard-issue VOD horror, which doesn’t seem to be a film you’d expect an organisation to specifically get behind, this will entertain festival die-hards but few else.
Estranged is one of the first films released on VOD through Icon and FrightFest’s new digital banner, FrightFest Presents. For more information on the other titles available from Monday 19th October, click here – or keep up to speed with our FrightFest Presents Week.