Psychosis

Psychosis

***1/2

Reviewed by: James Gracey

When horror novelist Susan (Charisma Carpenter), relocates to the rural English countryside from sunny California to recover from a nervous breakdown, her life begins to slowly unravel as she experiences unsettling and horrific visions. Could the blood-spattered sights be real, or the result of her increasingly fragile and unhinged mindset?

A multi-layered, frequently engrossing contemporary horror story, Psychosis successfully combines many of the elements that made British horror films of yore so memorable – off-beat mystery, hints of supernatural threat, quirky characters, psychological intrigue and bloody murder. Director Reg Traviss attempts to evoke twisted classic chillers from British cinema past, combining an off-kilter and edgy energy reminiscent of more contemporary horror fare with a classic British sensibility which draws on the old ‘Hammer House of Horror/Tales of the Unexpected’ school of terror.

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Carpenter provides a sturdy turn in her first leading role as the nervous writer out of her depth – appearing in almost every scene, Carpenter does an admirable job of carrying the film with a considered and restrained performance. She is ably supported by a mainly competent cast; though a number of characters remain underwritten and underexplored, and model-turned-actor Paul Sculfor delivers a rather bland performance as Susan’s somewhat detached husband. An actor of more scope my have been able to tease out the more ambiguous layers of this character to create something much more resonant.

A bloodily violent prologue in which a group of young eco-protesters are violently stalked and slain by a psychotic killer feels rather out of place in what is an otherwise atmospheric, mainly character driven mystery thriller. The dizzying shoals of red-herrings keep events ticking over, and the audience on their toes, as Traviss carefully kindles slow-burning tension in the grand tradition of chillers such as The Haunting or The Innocents, where the protagonist’s fragile mind set could easily explain away the ‘haunting’. Is it all in her mind, or is someone with sinister motives trying to push her over the edge? The stillness and ambiguity is punctuated now and then with shrill blasts of violence.

The solemn mood of the film is enhanced by cinematographer Bryan Loftus, who also photographed Neil Jordan's The Company Of Wolves. His positively funereal work here effectively heightens a number of spooky moments such as Susan’s increasingly unnerving trek through the woods after witnessing her handyman ravaging a woman; the more disorientated and panicked she becomes, the more frenziedly the camera prowls around her as all colour and life bleeds out of the shot.

Psychosis is a rather stately, old-fashioned feeling film that is much more engrossing than much of the current spate of contemporary horror flicks doing the rounds. It exhibits a strangely cold and unfeeling tone that flows beneath proceedings and will continue to linger long after the cruel twist has been revealed; perfectly echoing the skewed and off-kilter feel of many classic, somewhat off-the wall, British chillers of yesteryear.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2010
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A US horror writer moves to Britain after a nervous breakdown, but becomes plagued by horrific visions.
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