By David Dent
“This is not America, you know” says one of the detective squad to his colleagues in Andy Collier and Toor Mian’s rather excellent occult serial killer movie Charismata.
Well maybe not, but the directors have pulled off something rarely seen on screen – a US style police murder mystery unafraid to appropriate the trappings of that genre, but to deliver them in a uniquely British way without making the audience cringe with embarrassment.
In present day London a series of ritual murders, including the removal of certain body parts, is being investigated by a police team headed up by rough round the edges and almost permanently sarcastic Eli Smith (Antonis Anthony – think Tom Ellis in Lucifer only drier).
His partner is Rebecca Farraway (Sarah Beck Mather), a woman in a man’s world, who as well as having to cope with the casual sexism on display by her colleagues and the backlash from throwing up at murder scenes, is struggling with a failed marriage, a problematic house sale and an ongoing alcohol/prescription drugs issue.
The team’s investigations lead them into the worlds of organised magic and big business, and particularly the young uber successful property tycoon Michael Sweet (Jamie Satterthwaite, unctuously creepy). But the story’s real focus is on Farraway and the breakdown of her mind while on the case. No longer being able to distinguish between reality and illusion, she struggles to hold herself together while solving the murders.
On the face of it this might seem like slight stuff, and the film’s budget is slender, not really allowing for set pieces, although good use is made of some very grotty London locations (just when you thought that the Capital had been architecturally exorcised of those kinds of places).
But this is all about the performances. Anthony and Mather are both excellent in their roles (Mather particularly looks and acts at times like Sofia Helin’s Saga character from The Bridge, which possibly may have influenced the casting decision) but the rest of the squad are also very convincing and often quite funny, although the humour never gets in the way of the drama.
For a debut feature, Collier and Mian’s film would have been good if even half as successful as this.
But Charismata is a fine effort indeed, as assured in its handling of plot as the depiction of character. Recommended.