“Sex between a Taurus man and a Gemini woman could be dead horrible...or fucking amazing.”
As pick-up lines go that isn't the best, but it's one of the first thing shop assistant Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) says to scrapyard worker Victor (Julian Morris), both in their later twenties, after they meet at a Liverpool nightclub. They become lovers, but Kelly soon shows a darker side, which starts with erotic strangulation and moves from there. And something in Victor responds to this.
Kelly + Victor is a debut fictional feature from Kieran Evans, whose background is in documentary. At base his film, based on a novel by Niall Griffiths, is a love story, but it's a particularly dark one. The novel begins from Victor's viewpoint and ends with Kelly's, but the film avoids any voiceover, relying on the dialogue and the actors' body language to convey character nuances. It may not be due to the fact that the director and writer are both male, but Victor comes across as a more fully realised character. Antonia Campbell-Hughes does a lot with what she has been given, making Kelly, petite, shy, hunched-shouldered and somewhat mousy but harbouring some darker sexual urges, someone for who the saying “It's always the quiet ones” could have been invented. We get hints at her background, such as a somewhat disconnected relationship with her mother (a one-scene role for Gabrielle Reidy) and an abusive ex, Pete (Michael Ryan), who is introduced halfway through so that he could drive a plot development in the final scene. But that isn't quite enough to convey why she feels an urge to asphyxiate her lover (did she do things like this with Pete?) and in one scene, carving the initials K + V into his back with a piece of broken glass...something that isn't entirely consensual. Meanwhile, Victor starts experimenting with auto-erotic asphyxiation. It can't end well, and not unpredictably it doesn't.
Comparisons have been made to In the Realm of the Senses, though the sex here is all simulated. I also sensed an influence from the darker works of Nicolas Roeg, such as Bad Timing, especially in Evans's penchant for cross-cutting in time and space at key moments, and in the way that scenes and dialogue from later in the relationship appear near the start, and flashbacks to the beginning appear towards the end. Evans and his DP Piers McGrail make striking use of the Liverpool locations – with up-to-the-minute windfarms overlooking rundown apartments – and the surrounding countryside, though these scenes were actually shot in North Wales. While I'm not certain this film is entirely successful, and some may well find it hard to take (that 18 certificate is well earned, for language as well as sex), the performances are very strong and there's enough here to make you interested in Evans's next film.
Verve Pictures release Kelly + Victor on both DVD and Blu-ray. It was the former which was received as a checkdisc for review, and it is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. Affiliate links above refer to this edition. For those for the Blu-ray, go here.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced. (I didn't see this film in the cinema, but presumably it was shown in 1.85:1 there.) Kelly + Victor was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa. As you would expect from a feature which has been in the digital realm from start to finish (other than 35mm cinema prints, if there were any) you'd expect a pristine transfer. The colours are vibrant when they need to be, bleached out in other places, but I'm not in any doubt that this is what Evans and McGrail intended.
There are two soundtrack options, in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround (2.0). There's little to choose between them, except that the 2.0 track is a little louder. The surrounds are used mainly for ambience, and while the sound design is quite striking and in places deliberately disjunctive (a segue between classical music and dance music during the club scene) it doesn't make much use of directional sound. The subwoofer mostly fills in the lower end, for example in that club scene. Regrettably there are no subtitles for the hard-of-hearing.
The extras begin with a Q & A with Kieran Evans (30:48) after a showing of Kelly + Victor in Cork, filmed from various angles, including from behind Evans and his interviewer (unidentified) looking out at the audience. Evans talks about how he had been familiar with Niall Griffiths's work and had read an advance copy of the novel of Kelly + Victor when he was looking to make longer-form and fictional work after his previous shorts and documentaries. He discusses the contributions of his leading actors and how much Liverpool is a character in the film. There are spoilers here, so watch this after you have seen the film.
The extras also include the trailer (1:22) and a short film for The Forgiveness Project (6:50), a “UK-based charity that uses storytelling to explore how ideas around forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution can be used to impact positively on people's lives, through the personal testimonies of both victims and perpetrators of crime and violence”.