Toby Jones is directed by his brother in a claustrophobic, psychological thriller which impresses despite a precarious plot
Golden-Globe and BAFTA nominee Toby Jones has become a household name for many since his breakthrough performance as Truman Capote in 2006’s Infamous. He has enjoyed an illustrious career thus far, with roles in the first two Captain America and Hunger Games films and Tinker Tailor Solder Spy (2011), as well as taking over from Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring in the 2016 Dad’s Army remake.
A lesser known name is that of his brother: Rupert. The more obscure Jones brother has had a sparse directorial career, with sketch show Beehive and a 2007 Jennifer Saunders sit-com constituting the bulk of his back-catalogue, but with Kaleidoscope he has made the audacious transition to the big screen.
His brother is on hand to spearhead this cinematic debut. Toby Jones plays Carl, a timid, meek and socially reclusive middle aged man who lives alone in a gloomy, confined London flat. After a call from his mother (Anne Reid) declaring she is coming to visit, Carl’s monotonic life is plunged into disarray, anxiety and paranoia.
As the toxic and disturbing relationship with his mother becomes apparent, a macabre end to a blind date also takes its toll on Jones’ protagonist, and questions start to arise as to what is reality and what is delusion?
There are a multitude of parallelisms which can be drawn between Kaleidoscope and other cinematic works. It almost feels like a sibling to Gareth Tunley’s The Ghoul (2017), and there is evident influence from Polanski (namely Repulsion and The Tenant).
The relationship between Carl and his venomous mother very much alludes to that of Norman Bates and his mother in Hitchock’s Pyscho (1960), yet fortunately Rupert Jones gives the film just enough unique flavour to avoid his project descending into pure pastiche.
Toby Jones, much like in the fantastic BBC series Detectorists, plays the perfect ‘nobody’ – an unassertive character whose every step and movement oozes a crisis in confidence. It is his performance which ultimately is the film’s tour de force, yet Aileen – Carl’s mother – is a close second.
Excellently portrayed by Anne Reid, Aileen acts as a poisonous thorn in her son’s side, with a mysterious and sinister past-relationship between the two characters casting an omnipresent shadow over the scenes which the pair share.
The cinematography from Philipp Blaubach is also to be applauded. The recurring, slowly spiralling shots of the Escher-esque stairwell leading to Carl’s flat are mesmerizing, and lengthy zoom-ins give seemingly innocent objects a new sense of danger and omen.
The design and location of the film’s scenes have evidently all been construed to mirror the effect of the titular kaleidoscope – from the apartment wallpaper which resembles a Magic Eye, to the swirling drums of the laundrette which our protagonist visits.
It is these factors which fundamentally make Kaleidoscope a triumph. However, the plot and ending unfortunately fail to match the movie’s visual and dramatic vehemence. The narrative is initially compelling, yet as the film progresses it is Toby Jones’ performance which keeps the audience enthralled and desiring to find a solution to the character’s predicament.
The twist ending – a bizarre combination of Fight Club (1999) and Psycho’s resolutions – is somewhat telegraphed towards the latter stages of the film, and despite the audacity, it disappointingly feels hollow. The suspense, claustrophobia and turmoil which appears ready to implode, instead goes out with a whimper, and come the credits certain plot-holes already begin to become apparent.
Carried by its cast and visuals, Kaleidoscope does just enough to be deemed a successful arrival by Rupert Jones onto the cinematic scene, yet akin to Tunley’s The Ghoul its narrative suffers from over-ambition and anti-climax.