Cordelia (Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Never Grow Old, Zone 414) had a bright future as an actress destroyed by the 2005 London bombings and the survivor’s guilt that she developed as a result. Now she’s an understudy in a small production of King Lear. She keeps to herself, brushing off old friends such as Steven (David Leon, Boy Eats Girl, RocknRolla) when they meet by chance.
Much to her dismay her twin sister Caroline (also played by Antonia Campbell-Hughes) leaves for the weekend with her boyfriend Matt (Joel Fry, Cruella, In the Earth) leaving her alone in the apartment. And with good reason, with nobody there to calm her, fear and paranoia start to take hold of her. A series of unsettling events including an encounter with a senile neighbor (Michael Gambon, Dad’s Army, Johnny English Strikes Again) and a string of calls with no one on the line further disturb her.
Working from a script he co-wrote with the film’s star, director Adrian Shergold (The Nightmare Worlds of H.G. Wells, Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman) sets Cordelia up in a very low-key manner. It’s slow-burn to the point I was questioning the film’s horror and thriller tags as it felt like a straight drama. The one seemingly supernatural moment turns out to be the work of a mouse that somehow got into the apartment.
It’s about isolation, it’s about survival, and it’s about questioning one’s sense of place and purpose in the world. It’s also a psychological thriller about a girl who may or may not have a stranger watching over her, and the lengths she goes to try and prove this.Producer Kevin Proctor
And even after her cello-playing upstairs neighbor Frank (Johnny Flynn, The Outfit, Stardust) enters the picture, Cordelia still feels like one. Although as he becomes a bigger part of the film and more about him is revealed that starts to change. But it’s still kept very low-key and subtle, going from an awkward rom-com, complete with a runaway cello, to something darker.
And this is where Cordelia really starts to get interesting. Something is obviously not right about the situation, the question is, what? Is Frank as harmless as he first appears? Or is he responsible for the strange calls and other goings-on? Could he be a stalker, something worse? Or are we seeing the results of Cordelia’s mental state further deteriorating?
And if so, how much? At one point Franks says he didn’t know it was Cordelia and her sister in the apartment, he thought they were the same person. This certainly raised some interesting, not to mention disturbing, possibilities, especially in the final act.
The result is a film that exists somewhere between Repulsion and a more traditional psychothriller as the viewer tries to figure out just which one of them is dangerously unhinged. Or possibly both are in their own ways. And this is where Cordelia’s slow-burn approach will divide viewers. Those who love this kind of slow, enigmatic approach will love both it and the ambiguous ending. Others will find it frustrating and the film’s ending downright infuriating.
Personally, I found Cordelia to be interesting, if overly slow at times. It took a bit too long to get down to the point and even then was more concerned with creating a sense of dread and unease rather than outright scares. The two leads both give excellent performances that helped carry the film through its weaker moments, but while it may be fair to class it as a thriller, horror is a step too far.