Review: If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother in ‘Kaleidoscope’

Review: If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother in ‘Kaleidoscope’
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Anne Reid and Toby Jones in “Kaleidoscope.” Credit Jack English/IFC Midnight

“Kaleidoscope,” a glum British tower-block drama, would seem to possess all the elements of a potent psychological thriller. A pernicious bond between the middle-aged Carl (Toby Jones, credibly crushed) and his manipulative mother, Aileen (the grand Anne Reid, passively domineering). A cinematographer (Philipp Blaubach) who pries menace from the mundane and makes even the most generic urban architecture radiate disquiet. And a despondent production design that renders Carl’s drab council flat in shades of bilious green and burial-plot brown.

But the script (by Mr. Jones’s brother Rupert Jones, who also directs) is so tricky that, much like Carl, we can’t get a handle on anything. Events and timelines dissolve and reassemble like the crystals in the kaleidoscope of the title — a beloved keepsake, we gather, from an otherwise miserable childhood. A brief prologue has revealed a corpse in his bathroom, and the word “LUST” lingers on his wall calendar. Both have something to do with Abby (Sinead Matthews), a chipper date who shows up after an online encounter and is struck by his lack of possessions: Like all the best serial killers, Carl used a library computer.

Video

Trailer: ‘Kaleidoscope’

A preview of the film.

By IFC MIDNIGHT on Publish Date December 5, 2017. Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive. Watch in Times Video »

By the time Aileen appears, injured and in need of shelter, this painful romantic liaison may have turned tragic. Or maybe not: Committing completely to Carl’s wobbly perceptions, the filmmakers mire us in a hackneyed swamp of narrative uncertainty. Save yourself the effort of decipherment, and simply enjoy Mr. Blaubach’s baleful shots of high-rise exteriors and broody, squashed interiors. As Carl’s paranoia swells, his world seems to contract until all that’s left is a room, a bed and a woman he loathes. Possibly.

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