Making his cinematic debut with 2006’s The Gigolos, a story about relationships in modern Britain told in a uniquely sensitive manner, director Richard Bracewell returns with a variation on the theme in new film Cuckoo.
Opening with a stark close-up of Polly (Laura Fraser) as she travels to her work as a medical researcher in an unnamed city, we’re soon introduced to her world of science experiments, tight budgets and odd colleagues in the shape of Simone (Tamsin Greig) and her boss, Professor Greengrass (Richard E Grant).
As Polly begins to doubt that her current job is really for her, a feeling compounded by the obsessive nature of Greengrass, she also finds her home life somewhat lacking.
With her live-in boyfriend Chapman (Adam Fenton) barely in the house at night thanks to his work as a singer, and sister Jimi (Antonia Bernath) hardly the most compassionate of siblings, when Polly starts to hear things in her bedroom it seems that events are finally getting on top of her.
Determined to discover the source of the sounds, Polly begins searching both her surroundings and herself for an answer, a search that will bring her close to the edge of sanity and her own moral judgement.
Setting-up Polly’s situation in relatively few scenes – at work she’s unhappy with her manager’s methods, at home her boyfriend is there and then he’s not – we’re soon into classic thriller territory as her world starts changing.
For much of the film it’s unclear whether what we’re watching is supernatural or a result of Polly’s neuroses, further confusion thrown in to the mix when it seems that we might even be in sci-fi territory.
Visually it’s hard to place the film in any particular time or location, cassettes being used to record voices instead of digital equipment and no defining landmarks telling us whereabouts in the country events take place.
Darkness permeates Cuckoo, low-lighting casting shadows upon Polly’s flat and workplace as she searches for answers. Rather than simply being shorthand to depicting the various characters’ potentially shadowy motives, the lack of light is justified, particularly when Polly hears most noises while in her bed.
Just as important as the look of Cuckoo is the soundtrack, the noises heard by both Polly and the viewer part of the puzzle with Andrew Hewitt’s haunting music complimenting the action throughout.
Character-wise, Polly may not be the most alluring of leads as she becomes increasingly distant from those around her, but she’s made bearable thanks to a strong performance from Fraser.
Crucially, the interaction between Fraser and Bernath is always believable, little touches helping to cement their relationship even when it seems to be damaged the most.
Another double-act, albeit a largely non-comedic one, comes in the shape of Tamsin Greig and Richard E Grant. Simone’s interaction with Greengrass, and the realisation that his attempts to mentor Polly might not be a one-off occurence, ensures further depth to the pair.
As with any thriller, pacing is crucial if the tension is to be maintained. Cuckoo may rattle along as new questions are raised – and with an 80 minute run time it needs to pack in a lot of plot – but there’s still enough time given over to ensuring that nothing is too rushed.
With an ending which impresses almost as much as it confuses, Bracewell continues to demand his audience’s attention long after the credits role, seemingly throwaway lines and comments made by incidental characters falling into place only once they’ve been digested and ruminated upon.
A hugely satisfying slice of British drama which provides no easy answers, Cuckoo is a film which offers much on its first viewing but which should also improve with repeated screenings.
Cuckoo currently has no UK release date. Visit the Cuckoo website for more information.