Just released from prison after 15 years and living alone in a high capacity apartment building, Carl is anxious to finally go onto a date after a long time of solitude. Mild-mannered and quiet, he manages to strike up a date with an uncultivated young woman named Abby who takes a strange, if not alluring, interest in Carl’s humble lifestyle, but when his estranged mother, Aileen, arrives back into his life, Carl’s seemingly perfect date comes crashing down into millions of pieces and old feelings of hate and urges for substance return to a warping fold. The lust and youthfulness he feels for Abby is replaced with fear and anger as reality bends on the verge of breaking as the past and present collide to an unfathomable finale.
The first thought that pops up about director Rupert Jones’ 2016 film, “Kaleidoscope,” is to instantly relate this film to the Dutch sex wave film, Wim Verstappen’s “Blue Movie,” because of a major structural similarity that’s important to both films, is essentially an inanimate character, and is a looming presence despite the “Blue Movie” being an erotic film and “Kaleidoscope” a suspenseful psychological thriller. Both movies feature a monolithic motel-esque apartment building complex in which both house the feature character, a former inmate, and the complex becomes part of the story where as Michael in “Blue Movie” runs his pornographic business and Carl interacts with the building as an obstacle to hurdle or a contributing factor to his problem. “Kaleidoscope” marks Rupert Jones’ sophomore feature directorial and his debut as the credited writer that lightly placed notes of hinting at a Roman Polanski picture.
Toby Jones is sorely an underrated actor. The versatile supporting English actor has been underused since non-fictional performance of Truman Capote in “Infamous” that was crudely undermined by the late Seymour Hoffman’s titular role in “Capote” of nearly the same year more than a decade ago. However, Jones maintains a presence both in Hollywood and the indie circuit with the latter honing in on a film about a man with severe mother issues and Jones nails a browbeaten and tortured soul performance perfectly. The mother issues come courtesy of “Hot Fuzz’s” Anne Reid as a intrusive and sickly, yet superior matriarch to Carl’s whimpering passiveness. Reid’s somehow manages to pull off being manipulative and sweet in one single persona and bespoke the relationship between mother and son with the mixing water and oil. In the middle of Carl and his mother’s love-hate dynamic is a third person of an unequivocally different persona, making a trifecta of clashing personalties. Abby, played by Sinead Matthews (“A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life”), brings a little jovial pleasantry to a dark cerebral tale. Rounding out the cast is Karl Johnson, Joseph Kloska, and Cecilia Noble.
So how does a child’s toy factor into Carl’s descent into madness? The cylinder device creates optical illusions, usually in a colorful spectrum and mirroring pattern that refract when spun in a circular motion and looking at a light source to illuminate the effect. The experience is fantastical and Carl, browbeaten by not only the criminal system, but also by his family, uses it as a means of escape, an allegorical path of avoiding darkness in his life and a way to advert the melancholy that is his existence. Even his date with Abby is a gloomily skewed as she has ulterior motives to further push Carl to a metaphorical breaking point. Yet, he’s at peace with his assumed childhood toy in the handful of scenes he’s using it which recalls the image of his father; a joyful moment that’s ironically the sore point of most of his tribulations. The Kaleidoscope could also symbolize seamless duality as Carl has difficult establishing what’s real and grasping the hardline of time. Rupert Jones subverts linear and conventional storytelling magnificently to not only put Carl in a twisted world, but also throwing the viewer into chaos along with him.
Sparky Pictures and IFC Midnight presents Rupert Jones’ psychological asphyxiation thriller and Stigma Films production of “Kaleidoscope” onto UK region 2, PAL DVD home video. The DVD image is presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, on a DVD9 and the digital quality, like always, is a unfathomable well of picturesque with crisply defined shades of black combined with some variant lighting techniques to tell Carl’s current mood. “Kaleidoscope” touches more on the natural skin and coloring, but does use some dry yellow tinting and some visual effects to embark on the once penitentiary patron’s mental break journey. The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio mix has multi-channel sensitivity utilizing all channels to jar the senses even more and to, seemingly, weaponize Mike Prestwood Smith’s chaotic score to take the state even further. Dialogue has supremacy and clarity. Bonus features includes a standard array of extras in the cast and crew commentary, trailer, photo gallery, and storyboards. “Kaleidoscope,” like in the toy’s changing patterns, shatters hope only to rejoin it back together to then shatters it again in Rupert Jones’ heated and confrontational tale of mirthless character and taxing parental abuse affecting one soul’s chances of normalcy and redemption into society even in the face of societal kickbacks.