Monday, May 22, 2017

Movie Review: Night Kaleidoscope (2017)

Night Kaleidoscope (2017) - Scotland - Horror - NR
Directed by Grant McPhee
Written by Megan Gretchin and Chris Purnell
Starring Patrick O'Brien, Mariel McAllan, Kitty Colquhoun, Jason Harvey, Robert Williamson, Craig-James Moncur, Gareth Morrison, Ashley Sutherland


A psychedelic fueled antipathy through Dada Land, luridly lensed in sanguinary obscenities, escalates vampiric cinema into something that is as ghastly as it is sensual as it is a unique commentary on art and depravity.

A man sits alone in a room. Alone from the living that is, for his only companion is a corpse under a bloody sheet. Soon, though, he will be joined by vestiges of past events as he inhales a thick smoke, its psychedelic properties unleashing his ability to see into the moment, to see a frightened young woman become the very corpse before him at the hands of bloodthirsty butchers living in the night. These butchers cut at the flesh of their victim, drinking her blood and ripping skin wth their teeth, and they are strangely aware even in the absence of their watcher that he can look into this moment; he is hunting them and they will be hunting him.

Night Kaleidoscope takes a distinctly different approach to the vampire movie in its representation of vampires not as the supernatural entities of films past but as killers who pleasure themselves in the brutal slaughter of their victims. It takes an even more distinctive approach in its darkly atmospheric and surreal approach to filmmaking. Appearing to be shot mostly with available light, and handheld, it is filled with discordant vibes from scene to scene harmonizing (pretend it's not a contradiction for just a moment) the viewer with a world of wanton drug use and hallucinatory clarity.

A cognitive dissonance in film where at once it is rich in visual stylings, horrifying as they may be, yet devoid of much of the narrative dialogue we have been conditioned to expect. Within the first 10 minutes the narrative moves almost entirely frame by frame rather than word by word. Beyond that preamble take no comfort still in the narrative structure, as this is surrealism in cinema; by design devoid of control, the expected, the comfortable.

Richly drawn in speculative style it is. Minimalist in character definition, it is that also. It's the body of work as a whole holding together the disparately rich visual acuity and minimalist script. The viewer is dropped into the middle of an ongoing story as though walking into a strange home only intending to get directions and finding yourself in the midst of something intense. You want to get out but something holds your curiosity. Knowing is something that only comes from observing, without the benefit of a roadmap. Uncomfortable it may be, but it starkly tells its story in an unforgettable manner.

Observation may be a blessing or a curse, and that is up to you. As with any surreal film the details are in the underpinnings of the story, or maybe not. The vampire in story and in legend is very old indeed. At the core of all vampire legends is something that takes an essence of life from another to further itself. That very essence, by legends broad and far, has been provided by an even greater power. At the core of all religion is something that emanates from a higher source and hence everything, to be read as everyone, is subjugated to that source. The mandalas of religion and of social structure are indistinct. 'Higher up' may sound administrative, but it may just as well be provincial; for only the inner circle can afford the perversions it exacts on the proletariat.

Of course interpretation is entirely up to the viewer. There is not necessarily a right or wrong interpretation, as anything's value ultimately lies entirely in what it means to you. There may be an underlying message in Night Kaleidoscope. Images may just exist for the visual style and symbolism solely for the narrative. For sure though, Night Kaleidoscope takes pleasure in happy humping the leg of metaphor all the way down the bunny trail. 

On the whole, Night Kaleidoscope is a visually stunning movie, morbid in its obsession, and vibrantly pulsed by a synth soundtrack keeping straying scenes in check. Its story is complete, but not full, leaving room for interpretation. In comparison with other directors Grant McPhee has made a film with the chilling vision of Murnau, the esoterica of Anger, the destructuring of Roeg, and liberally sprinkled with the violent insanity of Jodorowsky. Night Kaleidoscope ultimately is genre setting.

And where do I go in rating this movie? Somehow, appropriately, my review has been written as fragmentary and disjointed as the film is at times. It surely has taken longer to write what I hope is an appropriate review. Even before I have written a review I know where my rating for a film lies; the review just explains how I got there. I knew my rating was on the positive side, 3 to 3 Plus, after the first viewing. For sure this movie is a different experience which at first had me wondering what I had gotten myself into, to something that has lingered and grown in its lasting effect.

The movie and imagery stayed with me after the viewing; though not necessarily unusual for some films, the degree to which this movie stayed with me and instilled in me a drive to want to understand it more was intense. This drive alone had me upping my rating to 4 Fingers. Through writing most of the review I have been conflicted about staying with 4 Fingers or taking the bold move and upping my rating; again this is unusual for me.

What has pushed up the final rating definitively for me is in myself referring to Night Kaleidoscope as being genre setting. It is its own unique film. Elements of horror, vampire cinema and surrealist cinema are here, but it goes beyond its inspirations to create, in my opinion, its own genre. It's not defined by any other film than itself, and when a film sets its own template for others to follow, that defines a genre and that is more than worthy of one more tick up on the rating scale.

My Rating: 5 Fingers, I give it a high five!


You can stream or download the movie from Amazon.

Visit the movie website for more information.

Grant McPhee on Vimeo.

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