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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Despair, Exclusive first-ever review, by Siraj Syed: Performances dispel the gloom in this psycho thriller

Despair, Exclusive first-ever review, by Siraj Syed: Performances dispel the gloom in this psycho thriller

Being humane can cost you dear could be one take away from the indie psychological thriller, Despair. Disjointed families and obsession can kill, as had been demonstrated by so many films of yore, and this could have been one more for the record, had it not been for the other take away: sympathy and empathy are the cornerstones of love, and even if you have to pay a heavy price for nurturing these values, they are what make life worth living.

A couple set off for their Christmas holiday, after leaving the husband’s daughter from a previous marriage with her mother. Instead of happiness and celebration, they are greeted with an almost dead woman, who they succeed in reviving, with care and warmth. The woman was found almost frozen to death, near their home. As she recovers, she tells them that her car had stalled nearby, and she was trying to get help, when a snowstorm hit the area. The couples’ own car has also stalled, and their landline is dead. What is more, the place had no mobile coverage.

Her behaviour and conversation getting stranger by the minute, the woman tests the patience of the kind couple. She keeps referring to a book and reveals things about herself in fits and starts, but probes the couples’ own life with equal persistence. Then, a series of incidents affect the husband, and all but kill him. While the two wonder what in heaven's name is going on, there is a hellish plot brewing, a plot that could claim a life. Despair holds back the suspense till the last few minutes.

Ukraine-born, Italy-raised, British film-maker Hank Orion makes his debut with Despair. It a subject he had nursed for years and the screenplay is his own. A child prodigy who was good at painting and writing, he branched into cinema after moving to England and has done both the screenplay and direction on this film.

Tackling a subject that pitches black against white, with white losing many a round, Orion needed a cast that could carry the film on perfectly timed dialogue delivery and sheer sincerity of emoting. He’s found three great actors, though the epithet might see a bit premature, doing exactly that. Jodyanne Richardson (Acceptance, Conscript, What’s the Score), is an Australian born, Hong Kong bred actor, who has the most difficult and key role to act out. She does it precisely and consummately. Michael Wouters and Jagoda Kamov play the couple, fitting in seamlessly. All three get their nuances right and the inter-play is palpable.

Orion does a neat job of tying up almost all loose ends, though he does through in few red herrings, like existence or otherwise of a man called Steve and the radio news about a pack of escape wolves. Detailing of locale and props and credibility of narrative are duly taken care of, pre-requisites in a suspense tale. He leaves us an open end, perhaps trying to alleviate the grim proceedings that precede it. Personalities in the film often do not get what they deserve, and get what they don’t, hence the tag-line, ‘Some are born evil’.

Despair is a psychological film with a few thrills, and many intimate studies in inter-personal relationship and the gullible goodness of innately kind souls. It also comments subtly about the gun-culture in Western societies and love as the essential ingredient of a successful marriage.

Rating: ** ½


P.S.: The above review is based on an exclusive private screener link, viewed on a regular home TV. It is the first-ever review of the movie.

In films like these, the suspense, gloominess and eerie foreboding are often enhanced by cinema-hall audio-visual qualities. The work of the Director of Photography (Austen Lane), the Music Composer and Designer (Antonio Gradanti) and the Editor (Jo French), if well done, would attract proportionately higher ratings.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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