Writer/director Richard Bracewell has put together a little gem of a movie here, a disturbing little thriller which will keep you engrossed for its duration and get you to do a lot of thinking about it afterwards.
This is independent British cinema at its best, a thought-provoking feature where there are no clear demarcations of either guilt or reality and the atmosphere is rarefied and eerie, unsettling without being scary.
Helped by well-scripted dialogue, Laura Fraser (a hot property at the moment, you can also see her in the BBC3 drama Lip Service) gives a beautifully controlled if a tad neurotic performance, which always keeps you guessing as to whether her character Polly is losing her mind or not.
The support cast delivers great and subdued acting. Richard E Grant is at his best in a role as Polly’s mentor, which verges on the creepy, although the movie’s tagline exaggerates this a tad too much.
The storyline follows Polly at a pivotal moment in her life. She is about to leave a research post for a new job. This has her more worried than excited, and her mentor, Julius, is less than thrilled at the prospect of losing his bright protégé. This plotline is subtly nuanced and played. Tamsin Grieg as Julius’ assistant and (one gathers) former protégé, is a lesson in understatement and repressed emotions.
At the same time, we see Polly interact with her sister and her absent boyfriend and pondering her present and her future in uncertain surroundings. The cavernous, dimly lit flat in a large, impersonal and seemingly deserted condominium seems to reflect Polly’s increasingly confused state of mind. But is she paranoid or is someone out to get her?
There is, indeed, a lot going on here, although you wouldn’t call it an action thriller. There is a lot of brooding, over-thinking, fearing and hearing.
At the core is the relationship between Polly and her sister, Jimi, (Antonia Bernath), which at times I even thought was an imaginary one! Polly hears noises, she is disturbed by them, they make her paranoid and uneasy. Her sister is by her side, but she might have a hidden agenda. Polly’s musician boyfriend is conspicuous by his physical and emotional absence, although his presence in the flat he shares with Polly is felt and sometimes heard. Again, I thought, is this another figment of her imagination?
Meanwhile, Julius appears to intrude in Polly’s life in subtle but unsettling ways. The intriguing strands head towards an unsettling resolution which will stay with you after the screening, a rare feat these days.
Director Richard Bracewell does a sterling job in weaving all these strands together and making the viewer feel Polly’s confusion. Andrew Hewitt’s emotional music score is beautifully understated and atmospheric, a perfect accompaniment to the eeriness of the surroundings and a perfect reflection of Polly’s fraught state of mind.
Ultimately, Cuckoo may struggle to get noticed in the midst of several big Christmas releases. But it really deserves to be seen.
Cuckoo is on general release in the UK from December 17th.
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