Dir: Kieran Evans
Which should you give the rougher ride in a review; a film that is just flat out bad, or one that has promise, but fails to deliver on it? I'm not sure of the answer to that question, but Kelly + Victor is the latter type of film.
The first twenty minutes suggest a low key, realistic, pretty explicit, drama about two fucked up people finding each other in working class contemporary Liverpool. These people are the titular Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) and Victor (Julian Morris), both pretty typical people in their mid to late twenties. They meet at a club, go back to Kelly's and have sex, during which she strangles Victor. After this the two look set to embark on a relationship, until things in the bedroom take a darker turn.
While it's always stylised, the first twenty minutes of the film feel reasonably authentic, with Campbell-Hughes and Morris demonstrating a believably raw chemistry, and a situation that will feel familiar to many of the audience. Unfortunately, after this reasonably promising start, the film begins to lurch further and further off the rails as it goes on. The problem is simple; I stopped believing the film, it's so keen to wallow in the seedy side of life that it stops convincing in the same low key way it does in the first twenty minutes. I know that there are people who live on the margins, but the way things pile up here (Victor's drug dealer friends, Kelly's best mate who works as a dominatrix, the late reveal of Kelly's backstory) just fails to ring true, and comes off more as a series of cliché assumptions about how the working poor live.
Set against this there are some better, more intimate, scenes between the leads, and this where the film frustrates, because on their day long date Campbell-Hughes and Morris are effective together, and you begin to be invested in this burgeoning relationship, but the film keeps departing from it. When it does so the performances suffer as well, as if the actors know that these scenes just don't ring true. A flatness seeps into Campbell-Hughes performance in particular. This is a shame, because she also has some of the best acted moments in the film, particularly in the last scene, and she's got one of the most interesting faces I've seen on screen for ages). There are other little inconsistencies and dropped plot threads; for instance why is Kelly so bad at dominatrix work, given her predilections in the bedroom, and where does the Meow Meow plotline go? But these are just little problems next to the fatal lack of credibility.
Kieran Evans' direction isn't bad, he hits on some memorable images, but the sex scenes, which are pivotal, are annoyingly edited. In each sex scene Evans intercuts the sex with more mundane activities (and in the last one something more impressionistic), he's clearly nodding to Don't Look Now, but it just doesn't work, rather than making the idea his own, as Steven Soderbergh did with Out of Sight, Evans comes off as no more than a homage artist.
As disappointed as I was by Kelly + Victor there are good things here, and that does mean I'd like to see future work from Evans, Campbell-Hughes and Morris, but I can't recommend Kelly + Victor, thanks especially to a terrible ending, which, as good as Antonia Campbell-Hughes is in the scene, is laughably contrived and far too neat. It's a shame this doesn't work, but all involved will go on to better things.