Written and Directed by Jack James
Cinematography and Editing by Jack James
Starring Roxy Bugler, Kemal Yildirum, and Jill Connick
Indie Film Review by Euan Franklin
It’s no secret: movies without production companies, proper ones, will always be layered with doubt. If no company could be persuaded, why should we trust that the film will make us laugh, or cry, or vomit? If Zach Braff couldn’t do it, how can the director of Malady? But, despite a few imperfections, writer-director Jack James has made a rich, disturbing, and deeply psychological movie that makes its Indiegogo finance seem irrelevant.
We start off sombrely, in a fragmented scene with Holly (Roxy Bugler), a lonely twenty-something, at her mother’s deathbed. Her dying wish is for Holly to go out and find love. This story is interwoven with that of Matthew (Kumil Yildirim), a taciturn mystery of a man, who ambiguously places a ruffle of human hair inside a card. Haunted by her mother’s words, Holly dresses up and goes out into the night. She visits a bar and sees Matthew. He leaves, and she chases after him. She says, bluntly, to take her somewhere – initiating their passionate relationship, mired by secrets and sex. When Holly learns that Matthew’s mother is dying, they drive up to take care of her – but Holly doesn’t know what she’s in for.
Malady blends tortured minds, mixing them together like two joining rivers. Abandoning the clichéd method of exploring a character’s mind via internal monologue, the film pursues an intensely visual approach. It unravels as a Dostoyevskian nightmare, whilst applying a brutal style of filmmaking – clearly inspired by Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, and Ingmar Bergman. We see Holly and Matthew, both damaged, confined in uncomfortably small spaces and both trapped in their familial prisons, unable to reveal certain truths. James’ claustrophobic cinematography captures this perfectly, making us feel closer to the characters and feeling almost invasive to their secrets.
Sex is a key component of the film, but it wobbles on the edge of pornographic. I sometimes felt embarrassed. But these gratuities hardly compare with similar movies like Gaspar Noé’s Love or Abdellatif Kechinche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour. Jack James is wise enough to cut down the titillation, heightening the love felt by both characters – genuine passion superseding mindless carnality.
It might’ve been better for James to apply the same level of prudence to other scenes in the film, which often felt too long. It’s clear he’s tried to create a realistic, almost tortuous, atmosphere but this is stripped away when certain moments become repetitive. Important scenes lose their potency because they appeared like a 3-second GIF on repeat. Conversely, there are scenes that feel too rushed. The meeting between Holly and Matthew at the beginning should’ve been drawn out, like any romantic encounter. I don’t care how desperate or haunted she is – she wouldn’t jump in that quickly.
The performances are remarkably human, living up to James’s carefully crafted characters. And despite the two leads creating such vivid portrayals of psychological torment, it is Jill Connick who steals the show as Matthew’s mother. She is subtle and evil, silently intimidating in close-up, and every word she speaks hurts like a papercut.
Malady is a deep and uncomfortable exploration into two tortured souls. James possess an uncommon confidence in pursuing a more European arthouse style instead of something more conventional. It’s not as great as it could’ve been – it might’ve had a theatrical release if the producers had better funding, and if James hired another writer to tidy up some of the scenes. Despite this, as it stands, Malady is a surprising achievement. But probably not one for the family.