Adam Levins’ Estranged is a welcome surprise, a psychotic slow-burn that takes a wicked turn as a dark secret unfolds a nasty little story of a girl and the family she desperately tries to escape. This calculated, disturbing story is set in motion after January is forced to return home after a near-fatal accident that has left her temporarily depleted of her long-term memory. Not only has she forgotten her family, but her childhood as well.
Levins shows elegance behind the camera, delivering a confidently directed slice of psychological horror that builds an intriguing story with strong characters and standout performances—a feat that’s even more impressive knowing that this is his first feature film. Estranged finds strength in being patient with its story, letting its main character (January) bathe in a slow-burning narrative before tearing her world apart. It’s a style of storytelling that, when done right, rewards the audience for sticking around, putting the story and its characters first, letting the real horror unfold naturally and effortlessly.
And that’s the thing about this one—there are no jump scares or lazy attempts at scaring the audience, the real horror of the film is an organic terror that always looms in the background. That horror comes from its story, one that’s largely built around the mystery of January’s past and her family that hangs from the edge of sanity. Estranged uses that mystery to its advantage, making you wonder every step of the way just what went down in that house all those years ago. It’s a terrifying idea—not being able to remember your past, but knowing that you ran away from something horrible. And that’s really where the film sinks its claws in and goes to work.
Once the story starts to unravel, Estranged goes to some dark places, revealing the true colors of its characters—and it’s here that the film takes a wicked turn. But as disturbing as it starts to lean towards, I thought that the movie backed away when it should have leapt forward. There was a real opportunity for Estranged to embrace its wickedness, but instead it feels a little tame and perhaps too safe. It’s not a bad thing, really, just felt more like a missed opportunity than anything else. And while much of the story is very calculated and well thought out, January’s moment of clarity (the big reveal) comes and goes so quickly that it leaves a lot of the film’s mystery feeling unresolved and muddled.
Aside from that, however, Estranged is a nice little surprise that delves into psychological terror with slow-burning poise and an absolutely terrific performance from Amy Manson. It’s a slow movie (maybe too slow for some), but it’s in that creeping crawl of a story that the film finds its pulse, allowing it to create tension and atmosphere that feels earned, not forced. And just like January’s past, the horror of Estranged reveals itself in methodical fashion, disguised under the warm embrace of a loving family.
Making of — This is the only special feature on the Blu-ray (unless you count the trailer), but they did a wonderful job with it, creating a 30-minute documentary on making the film. The cast and crew discuss the film, their characters, and the process of bringing it all to life. But more than that, we actually get a behind-the-scenes look at the movie as they shoot key scenes—it’s always cool to see what a film looks like on the other side of the lens.
Estranged debuts on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD February 12 form Well Go USA Entertainment.