For a long time Malady gets by on atmosphere and world building alone. It sets it’s own slow pace and dreamlike feel which thankfully doesn’t come across as being in any way contrived as so many other indie films do. Director Jack James earns this approach with what’s clearly an eye for the cinematic and a bravery for challenging storytelling. Although the film struggles at times later on, this story of two lost spirits finding solace within each others arms at night is both an involving visceral experience and a gentle roller coaster where you find yourself trying to second guess and analyse these characters. What it is lacking though is an identifiable emotional core in which to root the performances.
One of the film’s most notable features is its score; it’s always either underpinning or uprooting that which we see on screen. It’s at times chilling, at others warm, and it consistently functions beyond just helping to build a sense of mood and character, instead often going against the grain of the film, and embedding an uncomfortable sense of disconnectedness and distress. This is an uneasy film; the nature of human relationships proving to be a complex web of emotions where precious, loving moments are defined by the external terrors which threaten to break into those safe moments in a lover’s embrace. There is an air of uncertainty generated by the distance from which the film examines its subjects; an approach which, whilst often effective, unfortunately jars with the film’s request that you still empathise with these people.
Despite the film being a little emotionally removed the two actors do a commendable job in their respective roles. A film of this nature builds most of its scenes on looks, silence and suggestion and so its a real test of an actor’s ability when they haven’t got the crutch of dialogue to lean on. Both impress but Roxy Bugler gradually over the course of the film steals the show in my eyes. At first she is meek, almost to the point of frustration, however as the film develops she generates an affecting depth of character out of silence and speaking more coherently with her eyes than through her dialogue.
I don’t like to say this often because it runs the risk of being overused but I am definitely interested in seeing where writer/director Jack James’ career takes him. Malady isn’t flawless but as directorial débuts go it’s a very commendable one. Not only because it acts as a promise of more quality work to come but also because it is interesting in its own right. Now if James can direct us a little better towards the emotional core of his films in the future without sacrificing his abilities to create mood and to challenge his viewer then we will may well have a very strong film on our hands indeed.
What is the film’s greatest strength? The strong sense of atmosphere which is built.
Its greatest weakness? It’s an interesting experiment in form but it leaves you a little cold as a result.
Would I see it again? Tough call… I wouldn’t mind revisiting it again but it’s not one you will want to rush back to.
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