Perception

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Perception
"This twisty little thriller is sometimes too much, sometimes properly disconcerting."

Right from the start, the music sets the tone in Ilana Rein's d├ębut feature. A small boy is hanging around in the road. He climbs into a stranger's car. It appears to make no sense, but in due course we will discover that nothing here is what it seems.

Returning the boy to his mother in a nearby shop, the stranger, Daniel (Wes Ramsey) reveals that he was actually going there to foreclose on the property. In the circumstances the shop's owners are remarkably nice to him. He, meanwhile, is intrigued when he learns that the mother, Nina (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) is a medium. He tells her that he's desperate to contact the spirit of his dead wife. Can she help?

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When he's gone, the medium and her companion discuss how rich this guy seems to be, how much money she could make by feeding his obsession. Most viewers will doubt that Nina is anything more than a con artist - but if that's the case, she's a con artist with a special needs child to provide for, so not entirely unsympathetic. As time goes on, sympathies shift. Perhaps Nina really does have some supernatural ability, but is she nevertheless taking things too far? And does Daniel's obsession need to be fed or is it already at a level that could be considered dangerous?

Like that music, this twisty little thriller is sometimes too much, sometimes properly disconcerting. Kumbhani is impressive in a double-layered performance that sees her character coping with multiple pressures at once. Nine is mysterious enough to intrigue early on, and as we get to know her better, depths emerge that keep her interesting. Meanwhile Caitlin Mehner, who plays the woman she is trying to channel in scenes that are part flashback, part ongoing dialogue, alternates intensity with a lightness and a distance that forbid the audience from getting too close, for very specific reasons.

In what at first appears to be the leading role, Ramsey has the kind of classical good looks and easy charm that will make many viewers like him automatically. As his various problems emerge, Daniel shifts fluidly into something less pleasant, yet his yearning for a simpler world still offers viewers a point of connection. In many ways he's just looking for a Hollywood narrative but he's in the wrong kind of film.

At times vibrantly erotic, at times extremely bleak, Perception presents demons that are all too common against a landscape of intertwined social problems that constrain its characters' lives. It's an oddly balanced film that makes effective use of its central premise and even if you figure out aspects of the story before the end, it unfolds in a style worth watching.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2018
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A bereaved man turns to a medium to channel the spirit of the woman he loves, but nothing goes as planned.

Director: Ilana Rein

Writer: Ilana Rein, Brian Smith

Starring: Wes Ramsey, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Caitlin Mehner

Year: 2018

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US

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