"Manson is strong in the lead, showing us January's vulnerability - induced as much through terror as anything else - without relying on pity to hold our attention."

January (Amy Manson) hasn't been home for a long time. "Are you sure this is your house?" asks boyfriend Callum (Simon Quarterman, barely recognisable from his recent turn in Wer). It certainly seems to be - the butler recognises her and, inside, the family is gathered smiling around a 'Welcome home January' banner, but the truth is that she can't remember at all. Everything before she came off the back of Callum's speeding motorbike in Rio is a blank. Physically, she is expected to recover - she'll gradually escape from her dependency on a wheelchair - but her memory, the doctors have told her, might never come back.

How does one pick up the pieces in a situation like this? At first she didn't recognise Callum at all, but perhaps some part of her still loved him - the bond between them is strong. Her family is much more of a mystery. Everybody complains that she's been gone too long but nobody will tell her why she left. Callum says she rarely spoke of the place - she seemed unhappy about it, but perhaps that was "just an age thing." She has flashbacks of a woman she thinks she loved walking out into the garden with a shotgun to do something terrible. The house is full of guns. Father (a gruffly sinister James Cosmo) makes jokes about them but cautions Callum that he should never forget they're a weapon.

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There's enough innate potential for horror here that the plot which subsequently emerges seems unnecessarily complex, and gives the impression of having missed the memo about the circumstances in which most damaging situations faced by children actually develop. In fact, it has more up its sleeve than it's letting on, and though it relies for a while on shock and brutality (impressively delivered but nonetheless routine), it ends up confronting some rather uglier truths. Meanwhile its class politics, which might seem to be kicking down, take on a more sinister aspect. We are, after all, living in an era when the super-rich are investing in fortified properties in remote places. There's something in the air.

Manson is strong in the lead, showing us January's vulnerability - induced as much through terror as anything else - without relying on pity to hold our attention. For this damaged young woman, everything becomes about survival and the patient courage that demands. Alongside her, James Lance and Nora-Jane Noone deliver highly stylised performances as the jealous siblings, and Eileen Nicholas creates a mother who is tender and troubling in equal measure, the most complicated character in the tale. Gary Shaw's cinematography really brings out the character of the house and director Levins effectively captures the tyranny of the familiar. January doesn't need to remember the past to realise that something is very, very wrong.

Levins has produced a powerful piece of work which will be difficult viewing for anybody who has ever been unsafe at home. The physical isolation of the house effectively stands in for the psychological isolation that such situations often entail, and if the action sometimes seems more dramatic than is necessary for the story, Manson's performance balances it out, giving the film depth and subtlety. Levins' distinctive visual style lends it a nightmarish quality despite the fact that most of the action takes place in daylight amid pastel coloured furniture and pastoral surroundings. Estrangement is a portrait of a broken society told in microcosmic form, but it is at its most potent in exploring very ordinary horrors.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2015
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After an accident abroad leaves her amnesiac and dependent on a wheelchair, a woman needs help from a family she cannot remember, and gradually discovers why she left in the first place.

Director: Adam Levins

Writer: William Borthwick, Simon Fantauzzo

Starring: James Cosmo, Amy Manson, Nora-Jane Noone, James Lance, Craig Conway

Year: 2015

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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