DIRECTOR Adam Levins WRITER William Borthwick; Simon Fantauzzo STARS Craig Conway; James Cosmo; Bob Duff DVD 11 April
Estranged arguably suffers from a storyline which fades and fizzles into malevolent predictability towards its climax, but the remote and dilapidated estate on which the film is shot is so archaic and atmospheric, the plot itself can comfortably take a supporting role. The narrative, in short, follows January, a young globetrotter forced to return home after a motorcycle accident leaves her wheelchair-bound and with amnesia. Unable to remember her family or why she first fled, our protagonist sleuths for clues to uncover the disturbing truth.
From the opening scenes, you instantly understand that director Adam Levins has a tremendous eye for detail. Inside, the house is fossilised in a nostalgic hue, furnished with elaborate antiques and retro kitsch, reminiscent of the sets and props of Guillermo del Toro in Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. January’s family and their evocative, foppish attire and eccentric, often surreal behaviour are also part of this wonderfully musty ornamentation. The grounds of the isolated and mysterious country estate, however, are what give Estranged its visual splendour and enduring suspense. The house and its seemingly inescapable perimeter echo the hopelessness and disrepair of the rural manors and disquieting architecture often found in the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.
In The Fall of the House of Usher, the narrator recalls: “I know not how it was — but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.” A similar description can be found in William Wilson: “The house, I have said, was old and irregular. The grounds were extensive, and a high and solid brick wall, topped with mortar and broken glass, encompassed the whole.” That sentiment of entrapment can be extracted from The Masque of the Red Death too: “The wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of frenzy or of despair from within.”
Ultimately, Estranged is blessed with an intriguing backdrop and strong performances, however the storyline never fully utilises these locked rooms, Victorian ruins and curious characters. Yes, Estranged could have been so much more, but it’s still an alluring watch which bursts with style and vengeful violence.