Director: Rebekah Fortune
Cast: Gus Barry, Rebecca Reaney, Lara Lemon, Peter Lloyd
Plot: A young boy (Barry) struggles with the loss of his father, a soldier struggling with PTSD. However, when a paranormal presence haunts the house, could his memory be bringing him back with malicious consequences?
Deadly Intent draws a lot of comparisons to the critically acclaimed horror movie, the Babadook, albeit with the central roles reversed. In Diana Townsend’s first feature production, it is the young boy, James, who buries himself in his grief. Introverted as a result of the death of his father, who we assume lost his life in service to his country overseas, James withdraws from his mother. It is the mother, who tries to rebuild the bond between them since the loss of her husband, but is met with a stone-walled response from her child. Again, with Deadly Intent, we come for the horror, but find welcome depth from the strong central characters. Rebecca Reaney is amazing as the anguished Bryony, clawing at a relationship that disappeared a long time ago. It is a tough call for an actress to keep an arc going when her primary emotion is constant sorrow, but a slick script keeps her performance in check. As the story progresses, Diana Townsend, who writes as well as produces, gives us a wider understanding of exactly where her grief stems from. Even when the character is at her most bullish and stubborn, the eventual twist hidden in Bryony’s history, makes everything Reaney does with the performance understandable. However, it is the young child, Gus Barry, who steals the show with a breath-takingly astonishing turn as James, the boy struggling with the loss of his father. Even when asked to do nothing, Barry’s stare cuts through the film like a knife, instantly conjuring up the atmosphere and tension director Rebekah Fortune requires for a scene. For an actor of his age, Barry is great, either when he is being terrified of the horrors lurking in the shadows or bubbling with barely hidden anger. Throw in Lara Lemon’s necessary light-hearted sister to keep the movie from veering too far into a miserable affair and Peter Lloyd’s deceased father jumping from loving dad to malicious spirit with ease, and you have a game cast that makes Deadly Intent a very entertaining ride from an actor’s point of view.
But the direction is what grips you. With a story like this, enclosed in limited sets with only three central actors holding the audience’s attention, you need a) a strong script and b) attentive direction to keep the story flowing. Deadly Intent’s best weapon is that it has both. It are the little character beats, especially at the start of the film, that engage you. If Rebekah Fortune can get all the information she needs out of a single shot, she will, adding to the intimacy of the family’s plight. There are some beautiful takes tucked away in Deadly Intent, my personal favourite being one shot where the mother and son get into a car for a road trip. Bryony opens the passenger door for her son; James gets into the back of the car instead without a single word. The angry and heart-broken slam of the door as Bryony takes out her frustration on the car says more than dialogue ever could. There are also some neat tricks with the opening relationship between mother and son, before the ghostly appearance of the dad shows up. From a certain point of view, we could argue that Bryony and James are the horror movie monster in their own lives. James is the silent antagonist, always watching ominously in the background of the frame. He is the cause of Bryony’s downfall and her worsening condition. You get the feeling that if Diana Townsend ever felt like going down the creepy child route with her horror, she could easily get there with a few story beats. On the other hand, in James’s point of view, his mother is just as ready for monster material. In his eyes, she is the destructive force, swooping in and tearing up her father’s memory. In her grief, she tears down photographs of his dad and denies all trace of his memory. It is understandable from her perspective, but to James, a boy too young to understand loss, it must feel like she is the horrible villain removing his father from his life altogether. It is a smart way to approach grief, removing the head of the house from the equation and watching the family unit turn on itself, like a house collapsing under stress. Deadly Intent might be a horror, but it is also an interesting character study that not even a terrifically timed photo-bombing seagull can hide from the audience.
If I was to nit-pick, the middle section of the film loses a little steam. The character arcs tie up twenty minutes too early and the film ends up relying on its jump scares, which are too few and far in between. It boasts some nice tricks, including a sudden reflection in the mirror and one jump with an Ouija board, but for the horror purists, it is more of a slow-burning vehicle than a pulse-pounding paranormal thriller. That being said, scares aren’t everything and Deadly Intent makes up for it with an undeniable dread, especially paired with the very real and gritty discussion of PTSD. For an opening production from the Townsends, this is a promising start.
Final Verdict: A middle section sag aside, Deadly Intent boasts great characters, masterful performances and an engaging script.