The Grunge legend, Kurt Cobain, once stated: “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.” This enduring and perpetual sense of paranoia permeates writer director Rupert Jones' claustrophobic thriller Kaleidoscope as he puts his own brother, Toby Jones, through an emotional roller coaster ride of Hitchcockian proportions.
Carl (Toby Jones) is a quiet and unassuming man working as a gardener and living on his own in a depressing council block, having just been released from prison, with a friendship with his neighbour Monique (Cecilia Noble), his only “normal” human contact and interaction. He has a tumultuous and unhealthy relationship with his mother Aileen (Anne Reid) who announces her intention of visiting him which causes intense anxiety and anger. Carl's simple life is complicated even further by his date with sensual and unhinged Abby (Sinead Matthews) whose interest in Carl is menacingly suspicious. Abby encourages Carl to have a drink, which he initially resists and declines, but her persistent and seductive approach wins him over and Carl spirals into a fragmented and enigmatic nightmare that leads to inexplicable and visceral violence.
Kaleidoscope is a beautiful and sharply styled debut feature for the British writer-director Rupert Jones who has crafted a distinguished career as a TV writer and Short Film director. The addition of Toby Jones as the lead is a profound benefit to the production as his performance is as rock solid and dependable as usual. His portrayal of Carl is subtle, believably understated and psychologically nuanced. Carl is plagued by his history with his domineering mother as her passive-aggressive responses continues to fracture Carl's already tenuous hold on his emotional equilibrium. Her arrival coincides with Carl's perplexed discovery of the fall-out of the date the night before. The simplicity of the story suddenly becomes intricate and esoteric with stakes being raised with each new interaction and conversation.
Toby Jones is an actor who manages to heighten any material he’s in, from serious work in Infamous and Atomic Blonde to lighter material such as Dad’s Army. His performance here is no exception as the viewer is drawn into the utter despair and desperation of Carl as his life starts to fall apart at his feet, just as he's attempting to put his problematic past behind him. Jones truly sells the tortured loner and social loser as the isolation almost brings him to his knees. The scenes Jones and Reid share are particularly chilling and appropriately mean-spirited as they spar with dramatic ferocity. The venom and vitriol between mother and son, aggressively believable.
Kaleidoscope, like the titular toy, takes disparate threads to create one overall story of abuse, paranoia and childhood loss. It plays with the idea of the fallibility of memory and the damage done by toxic parenting and builds to a crescendo of disorientation and confusion. The ending is agonisingly frustrating, but fits beautifully with the trajectory and intent of the entire piece, which adds to the disarray and distress.