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There’s a certain historical fascination with the mind and work of prodigious serial murderers, with a long and celebrated account of their dealings from time immemorial up to the present. Nowadays, from long-running television series to popular films, the horrific crimes of these butchers continue to infatuate and be source for, perhaps a bit puzzlingly, great entertainment.
Now comes Charismata, a tense, often gruesome, thriller that follows a young woman named Rebecca Faraway (Sarah Beck Mather), new to the detective force, and daughter to the commissioner who is partnered with Eli Smith (Andonis Anthony). She’s not accepted quite so much into the fold with open arms as outright bold-faced ridiculed as she is bullied and stymied at nearly every turn, the men looking to break her fast. She refuses to back down though and proves her worth while investigating a curious spree of graphic murders that eventually lures the killer into her world and she into his, causing Rebecca to lose grip on her own senses. And maybe much, much more.
Written and directed by Andy Collier and Toor Mian, Charismata owes much to several key genre-defining films of the past twenty or so years, yet manages to cleanly separate itself enough by mixing a few specific themes together with a decidedly well-polished hand. What begins as a textbook crime-scene investigation story finds stronger footing in the psychological, when the second half flirts with disturbing imagery and unnerving audio. Firmly centering Rebecca, Collier and Mian populate her chaotic little corner of the world with several well-developed supporting players who all spin in crooked orbit around her, each designed to trip her and the viewer up as the case unravels into what can only be described as teetering on the brink of well, the abyss.
As good as the film is narratively, it’s all about light, with Collier and Mian using it to great effect throughout, from the clever use of headlamps to the hints of color that subtly seep, saturate and tease the mood of so many sharp moments. Charismata is a good-looking film that is layered with symbolism. We are meant to wonder about the authenticity of what is happening, seen only through Rebecca’s eyes, some that are distressing to be sure as she descends into a kind of madness. Transitions keep us guessing as to whether she truly is possessed by an evil or she really is cracking. Mather convinces throughout, carrying most of the story and along with Collier and Mian’s direction deliver some terrific moments. This is a stylish, and creepy crime chiller.
More accurately, Charismata is a director’s film with as much to say about the story through its visual as with its sharp dialogue. It isn’t necessarily a new idea yet Collier and Mian have a great deal of fun with the tropes and offer some solid moments of humor as well as horror, with Jamie Satterthwaite playing a Christian Grey-type mogul, deliciously chewing up every scene he can get his teeth into. There’s plenty of ambiguity to it all, even as it seems to close the loop it creates, with a shocking end that will seem logical to many but as equally open-ended to those less convinced by what we are seeing. What is really happening? It’s a smart shot in a smart movie.
Charismata is currently touring the film festival circuit. Learn more here.
Movie description: Charismata is a 2017 thriller about a rookie female detective who becomes caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a killer who has taken special interest in her.
Director(s): Andy Collier, Toor Mian
Actor(s): Sarah Beck Mather, Jamie Satterthwaite, Andonis Anthony
Genre: Horror, Thriller