Review: Look Away (2018)

Look Away is a tense slow brooding psychological thriller offering more than just a few jump scares

Maria (India Eisley) is a lonely 18-year-old high school student, who after feeling rejected by her family and tormented by her peers, begins to communicate with her reflection in the mirror – only here the girl in the mirror is more than just a reflection. It is a girl called Airam and she is able to communicate back. Airam is initially supportive towards Maria, who has become increasingly withdrawn, and offers her a solution to her torment. She has the confidence to say what Maria is thinking, the drive to get what she wants, but there is also an ulterior motive and a more sinister side to Airam.

Look Away is a slow brooding psychological thriller from writer-director Assaf Bernstein, which plays out differently to what you may initially expect, moving away from the more obvious concept of a demon in the mirror. A concept we have seen in various forms in films such as Mirrors (2008), Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), as well as numerous others. Using the concept Look Away does still manage to create some tense moments early on by using the doppelganger in the mirror, but the main horror elements take a very different route, concentrating more on emotions in this character driven story.

Delivering more than just jump scares and murder by numbers, Look Away is intelligently executed and has a surprising development of events; choosing to focus on Maria’s emotional insecurities and pressure from both her parents and peers at school. At school Maria is singled out and constantly tormented by the school bully Mark (John C. MacDonald). This leaves her feeling alienated, especially when even her supposedly best friend Lily (Penelope Mitchell) seems to turn a blind eye whenever she is in trouble.

At home she is unable to reach out to her overbearing father, whose only concern is more about her physical appearance on the outside. Her mother so subdued by her pills is also troublesome.  Feeling lost and alone Maria is forced to reach out to the only person willing to listen and Airam is more than just her reflection inside the mirror.

India Eisley is impressive as the central character to the film, with the ability to play both Maria and Airam with contrasting personas that are reflected very differently on screen. As Maria she is fragile, withdrawn, vulnerable and jealous, baring some obvious similarities with Carrie. It is however her insecurity which makes it believable that she is vulnerable enough to consider turning to Airam for help. You are really drawn into the emotional plight of the character, who you can’t help but empathise with.

In contrast Eisley’s performance as Airam is just as impressive, although her confidence moves towards the other end of the spectrum, without overplaying the role. With that being said, her versatility to shift between characters is excellent and when Airam takes control, both in the personality and physical presence of the character there is a noticeable change – where you can suddenly see a glimmer of danger in her eyes.

Jason Isaacs and Mira Sorvino may only have supporting roles as Maria’s parents, but they are both excellent to watch. Jason Isaacs is domineering as the overbearing husband and father, whose obsession with visual perfection leaves him misguided. Through ignorance to deliberate disregard he dismisses the issues of the family and dealing with it the only way he knows how. Giving his wife pills to numb the pain, or as a surgeon, the solution of a scalpel to enhance a sunken smile.

Mira Sorvino once again delivers an amazing multi-layered performance as Amy. A housewife whose character feels broken and submissive to her imperious marriage and haunted by her vivid and somewhat disturbing dreams. It is during these dreams that the film begins to create an uncertainty regarding events and at times give a suggestion that it could possibly undertake a different direction. These visions were powerfully portrayed and is an area which should have seen explored more.

Director Assaf Bernstein slowly builds atmosphere throughout the film perfectly with stylised lingering shots, which skilfully projects emotions and the loneliness of Maria. This works perfectly with well-placed silences and a haunting orchestral score, which constantly adds weight to tension within its scene. Bernstein does well to maintain the tone throughout the film, choosing to concentrate on enhancing performances rather than feeling a need to escalate the film, with expected jump scares or more action at the end to try and keep audience’s attention.

Look Away takes its time building up the atmosphere and the emotions of the characters. You may not always agree with what happens to the characters, Amy in particular who for the most part seems as much a victim, but as the events are gradually explained you can understand why the emotions run high.

The film may not appeal to some horror fans due to pacing, the film’s lack of jump scares and, for the most part, very little screen blood or violence. However, this doesn’t take anything away from the film. The horror is built up primarily through the brilliant emotional performances of the talented cast, especially Eisley who, with her contrasting personas between the two personalities, really showcases her abilities as an actress.

Look Away seems to be yet another well-made horror film to slip under the radar – This lack of reception should not be considered a reflection of the quality of the film. It’s a great example of an intelligent horror offering something different.

Look Away is available on Digital Download from 15th April 2019

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