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First Look Review - MALADY

Two lonely souls connect in search of solace.


Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Jack James

Starring: Roxy Bugler, Kemal Yildirim, Jill Connick




"I’ve not seen anything else like this all year, and, such is the devastating power of Malady, with its bleak honesty and unshakeable impact, I’m not sure I’m prepared to. In its undaunted examination of love and possession, Malady is not for the faint of heart."





Malady is a filmic experience of such dazzling gloom that, as I write, the experience of watching still feels heavy upon my skin, the way rain water seeps through after being caught in a storm. And the narrative of Malady is akin to a storm; when the characters are not engaging in the explosive catharsis of sex or simply wailing into the ether, they await further desolation, with grim omens piling upon the horizon like so many dark clouds. Holly (Roxy Bugler) loses her mother in the opening frames of the film; her palpable grief sets her to wander the streets of the city, and towards a chance meeting with Matthew (Kemal Yildirim) another lost soul, whose own demons are hinted at by the self-inflicted burns upon his hands. Writer/Director Jack James establishes Malady’s visceral style early on, shooting the streets of the anonymous city as if it’s an extra circle of hell; all sick ochre and violent red illuminations, the drone of industrial noise rising on the soundtrack as the narrative elliptically clips and cuts across time. Perhaps sensing their shared alienation within this landscape, the two connect (‘Excuse me. Take me somewhere?’ Holly plaintively asks, suggesting that anywhere with a stranger is better than being somewhere alone) and they retreat to Matthew’s secluded hovel, beginning their relationship with an anxious and graphically rendered sexual encounter which portrays vividly their mutual desperation for connection.
Malady is an unflinching love story which represents the emotion as encompassing and as equally fraught with negative as positive energy. The intense style of Malady - the deliberately clumsy close ups and erratic focus - give the film a raw intimacy; we feel as if we’re intruding upon something deeply personal, that we should perhaps look away from (accordingly, between takes, James subjected his actors to isolation to authenticate their sense of estrangement). It’s also a horror film too, where love itself is a monster which begats grief and duty and dependence. Midway through the narrative, the film presents Matthew’s mother Lorelai (Jill Connick), ostensibly dying just as Holly’s did, but who is a vicious, cruel matriarch whose spiteful actions and words leave us with no illusions as to who broke Matthew; with Lorelai’s introduction, the film gains a second bogeyman, and the nightmare plot coalesces from already queasy territory into something entirely harrowing.
Often, film-makers will confuse the mere use of abject and bleak material for apparent profundity, as if provocative and serious subject matter is in and of itself enough to propel their work to significance, regardless of the execution (viz. any number of ‘worthy’ Oscar contenders). Malady, difficult and challenging, is the real deal. Among the uncomfortable assault of sound and imagery are striking performances that entirely convince us of the heart-breaking nature of the story. As Holly, Roxy Bugler is by turns washed out, na├»ve, ruined and beautiful, while Kemal Yildirim, necessarily playing a more subdued role, imbues his Matthew with a violent repression that makes the final shock of the film’s ultimate scenes horribly inevitable.
It is a tricky business awarding summative ratings to films such as Malady, difficult because films as unique as this one don’t have many equivalents to be placed against. I’ve not seen anything else like this all year, and, such is the devastating power of Malady, with its bleak honesty and unshakeable impact, I’m not sure I’m prepared to. In its undaunted examination of love and possession, Malady is not for the faint of heart.



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