Charismata (2017)

Directed by: ,
Written by: ,
Starring: , , , ,

Directed by Andy Collier and Toor Mian

I’ll save morons like myself a Google search – the title refers to a sacred gift from God. And while it may be overstating it for me to call Collier and Mian’s debut feature quite that, it’s the perfect movie to find on TV/ streaming late night. Many are the happy viewers I see telling themselves they’ll watch the start, only to leave their couch 90 entertaining minutes later. Within that hour and a half they’ll be taken on a fast paced journey down the backstreets of London, through its glitzy centre and possibly to worlds outside our own. Their guide is rookie detective Rebecca Faraway (Beck Mather): a lady with a lot of problems on her plate, that finds herself investigating a possible new ‘ripper’ . Ritualistic, serial murders have been happening round the city, with organs removed and occult symbols left on the floor. Teamed up with man’s-man veteran Eli Smith (Anthony), the fast paced thriller throws her knee deep in corpses and voodoo practices as she battles a difficult ex and struggles to sell her home. Then when it seems like she has her man, the ironically named Michael Sweet (Satterthwaite), so begins a nervous breakdown with little sleep and lots of hallucinations. An intriguing, and at times downright frightening, game of cat and mouse ensues.

If the prospect of a supernatural police thriller, with religious undertones, sounds samey don’t worry – this is more than another Angel Heart or Worry Dolls. What keeps it fresh is its very British feel. The force aren’t defined by their honour and dignity at whatever cost etc, as much as their casual acceptance of bullying, misogyny and mandatory piss taking. Moreover, Detectives Faraway and Smith aren’t the usual maverick and by the book duo. Rather they have the pettier form of workplace rivalry, that will be all too familiar to viewers – she can’t take a laugh and he just wants to sit on his arse drinking coffee. Watching them go from bickering partners to, sort of, friends is rewarding and both cast members play their role with enough nuance you can see why each believes they’re the good cop. They also traverse the psychological depths the script demands without losing their ability to make you laugh with the well-judged comedy. In particular, Beck Mather shines, and where others would play the part as mopey her Rebecca takes every one of life’s punches to get the bloody job done.

The supporting cast are similarly accomplished. Satterthwaite is an absolute joy as the smug Mr Sweet, and from his first appearance is never less than completely punchable. Since he’s immediately the prime suspect, it’s not giving anything away to say he may know more than he lets on – although that is not to say he’s necessarily the villain. And thankfully he’s deliciously sinister when he has to be too. Vivash is similarly adept as the truly pathetic Tony: the bungling head of a deeply exploitative security company, that gets implicated in the mystery. In horrors with comedy, instead of outright horror comedies, I’m often put off when the laughs directly influence the plot (I’m looking at you Dead Set). But thankfully it’s well judged in Charismata, and there are very few instances when the comedic bits break the established reality of the piece i.e. even the comedy relief characters handle proceedings in a way that a real person might.

Furthermore, I was pleased that the closest there is to a mentor character, who explains all the voodoo goings on, doesn’t believe a word of it. Doug (Mullan) is entirely in it for the money, and as such is many times more captivating than the usual po-faced mystics littering cinema. Oddly enough, seeing people have such little faith in the supernatural sells the premise far more than making it seem the logical answer, giving a credibility that’d otherwise be lacking. Additionally, it leaves ambiguity as to how much of Faraway’s disintegration is caused by mysterious forces and what comes from her life outside the job. Speaking of which, this arc is skilfully handled, with her building hallucinations, disorientation and erratic behaviour coming to a powerful climax. The portrayal of Rebecca is unsentimental, with the script being unapologetic for her visible flaws. As such, a tried and tested narrative feels far more dramatic than in rollercoaster horrors like Drag Me To Hell, with the emphasis firmly on the character vs the possession. It all looks amazing too, with lots of twisted angles and tasteful trickery underlying our protagonist’s increasingly fragile mental state. The makers aren’t afraid to show things either – with none of that low budget cliché of cops looking at a body we don’t get to. Simply put, you’d never know it was made for cheap without being told.

If there’s anything big to complain about, it’s that the script maybe needed final tweaking. The back and forth banter between the cops is frequently watchable, with the right mixture of genuine wit and lowbrow profanity. Yet the sheer amount causes earlier procedural scenes to grind to a halt, with too many barbs coming between the important plot points. This ebb and flow runs throughout, with the third act feeling rushed in light of the flawless escalation of the second. Given that the mystery is fairly shallow, with the perpetrator and their method being clear before the end, it’s disappointing how little time it takes to tie up. There are also some background details for Faraway given annoyingly late, including how and why she joined the force, and a mid-point sex scene feels out of place. However, I emphasise these are fairly minor points, and I’m sure watchers will feel satisfied by the end. Although it does mean that, as with the big bag of crisps they munch on their couch, they’ll be happy if not completely full. Still, what they’ll have seen is not just a decent scary film, but the birth of some major UK talents. Who I hope make many more movies for a midnight binge.

Rating: ★★★★☆

At time of writing Charismata has not got a distributor, although I hope this changes so y’all get to see it. For more information watch this space or follow Loose Canon Films.

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About david.s.smith 459 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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