After getting into a motorcycle crash with her boyfriend and being left in a wheelchair temporarily, January returns to her family home to recuperate. But the accident has left her with no memory of her family or her past, or why she suddenly decided to leave home years ago and not look back. Her family is happy to have her back, but they are all acting very strangely, as if they are hiding a dark secret that they don’t want January to remember.
Estranged (also known as January in the UK) is the kind of contained thriller that I really love. Most of the movie takes place inside January’s family home–a large, plantation-like manor in the middle of nowhere. This helps the story in several different ways. It creates a profound sense of isolation. The family never leaves the house, making the audience even more suspicious about what they are hiding. The fact that January is confined to a wheelchair and is reliant on these people that she doesn’t really know also adds to the sense of dread. And when things really start to go downhill for January and the story turns much darker, it’s easy to believe that there is no quick way out of the situation. Also, because the characters have no contact with the outside world, the film feels timeless, as if it could be happening anywhere, at any time.
Within this house that is the center of the film’s action, the filmmakers give us a great cast of characters. The family consists of the patriarch Albert, who obviously controls everybody else in the family; the depressive and mostly silent mother Marilyn; the creepy brother Laurence; the jealous sister Kathrine; and the tortured butler Thomas. The actors all give their characters real personality and quirks about them so that you can never really trust them, or what they are doing or saying. Callum, January’s boyfriend, is funny and free-spirited, offering a great contrast to the antiquated ways of the family and adding to their weirdness. Amy Manson in the role of January carries the film like a true heroine, staying skeptical and strong throughout her ordeal and making her someone that you want to see survive.
The real strength of Estranged is its constant nagging feeling that something just isn’t right with this whole situation, but you don’t know what it is or where the story is going. I had some ideas about what I thought was happening while watching it, but there were definitely some plot wrenches thrown in there that left me very surprised and even more intrigued. Midway through, there is one very dark and disturbing turn of events that really shocked me and made me rethink what kind of movie I was watching.
Estranged is not really that violent until the end, though there are a couple of cringe-inducing moments here and there. My only complaint is that while the ending left me satisfied, it also left me with a huge question as to what was going to happen to one character after it was all over, but that’s only because I was so invested in the story. With excellent acting and smart use of location, Estranged is a very nicely plotted mystery-thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The only extra on the Blu-Ray is a making-of featurette, but it still offers some great insight into the production of the film and how the actors approached their characters. You can see Estranged for yourself on DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital HD from Well Go USA Entertainment on February 16, 2016.
WICKED RATING: [usr 7]
Director: Adam Levins
Writer(s): William Borthwick, Simon Fantauzzo
Stars: Amy Manson, James Cosmo, Craig Conway, James Lance, Eileen Nicholas
Release: February 12, 2016 (DVD and Blu-ray)
Studio/ Production Co: Face Films
Length: 101 Minutes