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Estranged (2015)

Well Go USA
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/16/2016

All Ratings out of



Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/2/2016

Regular visitors to this site know that when I review a remake, I go off on a rant about the rash of remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings and how Hollywood has lost any sense of imagination or originality. However, my one caveat to this is that I don't understand why producers insist on remaking well-known, successful films. (Well, I do know -- it's because the built-in cache will lead to a bigger box-office draw.) I would certainly abide by the idea of a lesser-known movie which wasn't able to execute it's good idea being remade. This makes much more sense. For example, Estranged, a movie that you haven't even seen yet, needs to be remade.

As Estranged opens, we see January (Amy Manson) and Callum (Simon Quarterman) on vacation in Brazil. They are having a blast tooling around on a scooter, until January is thrown from the vehicle, sustaining a serious head injury. The pair return to January's childhood home in England; a place she has not visited in six years. There, they meet her father, Albert (James Cosmo), her mother, Marilyn (Eileen Nicholas), her brother, Laurence (James Lance), and her sister, Katherine (Nora-Jane Noone). However, the accident has left January with amnesia, and she doesn't remember her family, the house, or what made her leave in the first place. Callum immediately finds the family to be very strange, and not just because he's made to sleep in the basement. As January attempts to regain her ability to walk, she appreciates the attention given to her by her mother and Katherine. But, she also feels that something isn't quite right. If only she could remember what had happened there as a child. As the time passes, January will slowly learn the unsettling truth.

Writers Simon Fantauzzo and William Borthwick have devised a very clever idea for Estranged -- what if you had no memory of a place and situation, but still knew that it didn't feel right. The movie slowly unfolds this idea, as the family's eccentricity gives way to weirdness. Are they just simple country folk? Are January and Callum seeing them through the eyes of people who have traveled the world? Or is something else happening here? When the truth is revealed in the third act, the movie takes a real turn and unleashes a surprisingly nasty streak. In some ways, the last part of Estranged feels like a different movie.

That's why it's such a shame that the movie does so many things wrong and the clever idea is never fully realized. It doesn't take long for things to not feel right. When January and Callum arrive at the house, it looks fine from the outside, but the inside borders on being ramshackle and there's very little furniture. The whole things smacks of a situation where the producers were able to secure the house for filming, but couldn't afford to furnish it or spruce it up. We are lead to believe that the house is something which someone would want to inherit, but this is difficult to believe. (I know that there are those who will argue that the condition of the house is supposed to mirror the psyche of the family, but I'm not buying that. Again, we are told that this house would be desirable. Yeah, by rats.)

For the first hour, the movie does a good job of having us guess as to what is really going on, but then the plot twist is revealed. The movie tips its hat far too early! Thus, we are left with thirty minutes of waiting to see how this is all going to end. The movie really drags here, as the writers have given us the twist and introduced a truly sick plot element, but then don't know where to go. Things really fall apart when January appears to suddenly be cured of all of her physical ailments. The finale delivers some satisfying action, but the coda fails for the bleak tone which it wanted and comes off "Let's just end it here."

I really wanted to like Estranged, as it had a good idea and a well-paced first half. The acting is good, especially that of Cosmo and Nicholas, as most viewers will truly have the reaction to them for which the film is going. (I won't ruin it.) But the low-budget trappings and the mis-handling of the twist really hurt the film. I would love to see someone take another stab at this story using an actual nice house and doing a better job of handling the twist. If done correctly, we could have a modern-day classic.

Estranged never explains why January has a University of Oklahoma sweatshirt on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Well Go USA. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing on noticeable grain and no defects from the source material. The film has a somewhat dark look, yet the reds really pop here, and the image is never overly dark. The level of detail is good, as we can make out the textures on objects and the depth works quite well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The music in the opening sequence sounds great, as we can pick out individual instruments in the stereo speakers. Once the action moves to the house, the sound become more subtle, but there are nice moments with subwoofer effects and surround sound, most notably during the finale.

The Estranged Blu-ray Disc is a bit short of extra features. "Making Of" (31 minutes), which is called "Estranger Than Fiction" on-screen, is hosted by Fantauzzo, contains a great deal of clips, as well as comments from the cast and crew. Fantauzzo also captures on-set footage, giving us a glimpse at how certain scenes were shot, as well as some very simple "fly on the wall" video, which provides a hint of the atmosphere on the set. The other extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long