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The Darkest Universe - East End Film Festival 2016

Monday 27 June 2016, by Anne-Sophie Marie

Following a BAFTA nomination for their first feature film (Black Pond), Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe return with an atmospheric story of troubled sibling relationships and mysterious canals.

Though very different from the world created in Flowers (Sharpe’s TV series, currently available on Channel 4), the characters here are as eccentric as the relationships are dysfunctional.

When the police give up searching for Zach’s sister Alice (played the very watchable Tiani Ghosh, who is also Will Shape’s co-writer) her boyfriend Toby (wonderfully portrayed by The Inbetweeners’ Joe Thomas) and Zach’s narrow boat, the latter embarks on a one-man campaign to raise public awareness through increasingly frantic vlogs at FindAlice.com. Zach’s search through the London canals and later throughout England, eventually evolves into a search for himself.

The plot artfully goes back and forth between the present and life before Alice’s disappearance, thanks to Will Hanke’s ingenious cinematography, creating clear visual contrasts between a more classically beautiful past, and more unusual, unexpected shots of the present, vlogs included. Will Sharpe’s transformation as Zach allows us to find our bearings within the chronology of the film.

Tiana Ghosh’s Alice, at times charming, other times gormlessly irritating, makes us understand Zach’s ambivalence towards her. It also creates great moments of eccentric comedy and drama between the siblings, as it does with Toby. Another very enjoyable moment is a vlog made by Zach and Toby’s brother Charlie (Raph Shirley). Unfortunately, we do not get a proper insight into Zach’s relationship with his Italian girlfriend Eva (Sophia Di Martino) to understand it fully, and her character seems underdeveloped.

Another difficulty with the film is its universe. Though the story at times nearly delves into Donnie Darko territory, it fails to take us there from the very beginning, leaving the viewer unsure whether it is a realistic look at mental health or whether we are really following Alice down the rabbit hole, into a dark universe of strange white lights and aliens. Because of this, the film’s pace is uneven and ends up closer to a heartfelt mood piece than the stuff Charlie Kaufman’s earlier scripts are made of.

3/5

The Darkest Universe is screened as part of the East End Film Festival, at the Genesis cinema on 1 July. More info here.

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