Carl (Toby Jones) is a gardener by trade, but this does not bring him into contact with many people and he is somewhat starved of company. He has his next-door neighbour Monique (Cecilia Noble) to talk to occasionally, but most of the time he is stuck in his own flat not doing very much at all, so has been making moves to find female company through a dating website. One night, he takes Abby (Sinead Matthews) who he has met online there out for a drink, and they return to his home to continue the evening, but things do not turn out as planned when he suffers a nosebleed, and when his estranged mother Aileen (Anne Reid) leaves an answer machine message it troubles him...
Carl is a troubled soul all round, one of those lost men in the modern world who slipped between the cracks of society and is struggling to get out of the hole that it has dug for him - though he may have been doing his own share of digging too. Kaleidoscope was a collaboration between brothers Toby Jones and Rupert Jones, the latter the director on this, patterning the plot after such nineteen-sixties psychohorrors as the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho and the Roman Polanski cult favourite Repulsion, among the many imitators they spawned. So already this had set itself something of a mountain to climb as far as making its mark as its own distinct property was regarded as.
In truth, this was very derivative, but the Jones brothers were too talented not to generate a degree of atmospheric quality even if psychologically it was mired in cliché. Lonely middle-aged men are not best served by cinema as far as depiction goes, they will either be sad bastards who seemingly deserve the ridicule the films they feature in land upon them, or they will be, there's no nice way of putting it, possible serial killers or perverted abusers. Kaleidoscope toyed with both those sides of the stereotype, and while it did settle on one over the other, for a supposed thriller you may leave this wondering if they had made the right choice, as if they suddenly felt guilty for the portrayal.
Therefore Carl has both mummy issues and daddy issues, the former more delineated than the latter, which appear to have left him borderline psychotic which we twig the further the film delves into his psyche. What he believes is happening my not be what is actually happening, so when he brings back Abby and he makes awkward small talk with her, his realisation that she is only present to fleece him of whatever she can find of value when his back is turned brings up a resentment that was always there, though previously it had been directed at Aileen. She follows her answer phone messages with an appearance in person as she effectively invites herself into his flat and tries to move in, making matters worse is that Carl is growing convinced he strangled Abby in a drunken rage that previous evening.
But this was tricksy stuff, so it may be his mother he has murdered, as he gets them both mixed up in his broken mind, on the other hand it could be that his mother is not there and never was, given she turns up at inopportune moments even when he is sure he locked her out of the flat. To give this its due, Kaleidoscope was very well acted all round, and as far as the direction went its dingy paranoia was a neat enough contribution to the urban hellscape genre, if on a scale so small that we rarely left Carl's home. The main problem was that while the plot left you dangling for much of the running time as if building up to a major twist, it did not pay off too well, you may be relieved in a way, but dramatically it was weak and as nobody here was hugely likeable, either because we did not get to know them sufficiently or because we did and did not like what we saw, spending over an hour and a half in their company was not sustained by its reluctance to turn into a full-on horror, or even a black comedy, which could have succeeded as well. It felt like an exercise more than a satisfying tale, but Toby Jones fans would find there was plenty of him here. Music by Mike Prestwood Smith.