On its sleek, gloomy surface, it would appear that Kaleidoscope, from director Rupert Jones, would have all the makings of a commanding psychological thriller. Aside from its preoccupation with the work of Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanski, the film also boasts a a subdued lead with a checkered past, an overbearing mother (played by beloved English actress Anne Reid), a mysterious corpse, and a nosy passerby who pries into the affairs of others. Sadly, the glue that holds them together isn’t savvy enough to create a structure that is anything more than a run-off-the-mill, boilerplate whodunit.
Carl (Toby Jones, the director’s character actor brother) is a slave to a dull, repetitive, lonesome existence in the urban sprawl, with human interactions kept to a bare minimum. In an attempt to achieve a more meaningful connection, he decides to try his hand at online dating. After hitting it off with Abby (Sinead Matthews), the pair return to Carl’s pad, but it doesn’t take long for the night to turn grizzly, with Carl left to piece together the events of the hazy, gruesome evening.
While the film’s namesake is a contrived metaphor for the ghosts of a childhood long gone, it is also representative of the fractured personality of its protagonist, whose splintered viewpoints continue to realign themselves as if they were the colorful crystals inside the titular toy. Kaleidoscope treats identity as a fluid concept, and we get lost in the tunnels of Carl’s skewed perspective. The somersaults of perception are echoed by the warped, claustrophobic set pieces and Mike Prestwood Smith’s eerie, imposing score.
As the delicate lines between fantasy and reality become increasingly indistinguishable, it is clear that the movie has absolutely no intention of being consumed at its word, taking advantage of the ambiguity between alternate time frames and conflicting character motivations. Revelations emerge and muddy the waters, some to the benefit of the story arc, while others offer little more than cheap thrills. Unfortunately, the script, which often feels like an unfinished draft, seems incapable of differentiating between the two camps.
While there are certainly moments of both technical and narrative proficiency, Kaleidoscope never quite escapes the manufactured, calculated frame it clings to. As we focus on the gears turning, it is difficult to feel the weight of whatever twisted exercise in morality is unfolding before our eyes. Although the film banks on its graceful, precise symmetry, it lacks the grasp on the humanity required to give its tale any genuine resonance.