Richard E. Grant stars in Cuckoo (2010), a dull, one-note psychological thriller from Richard Bracewell, whose marginally superior debut The Gigolos (2006) was a similarly throwaway medley of over-obvious stylistic debt and self conscious construction. Cuckoo concerns the supposed mental disintegration of Polly (Laura Fraser), a talented student under Grant’s leery Professor Greengrass. Landing an important job interview that will allow her to escape her constricting station in life, Polly begins to hear ghostly noises echoing through her cavernous flat as she prepares for a new life.
Bracewell’s film is a decidedly televisual affair, displaying the same po-faced shallowness that one would associate with a daytime soap. The actors stand, grimace, fumble to reach their markers with the naturalism of a cardboard cut out and then grimace some more. While this may seem a harsh evaluation of the performers, it is important to stress that any criticism aimed at the cast should equally be taken with the script and direction.
The screenplay is leaden with mannered declaratives and cringe inducing bouts of exposition that the actors dutifully recite verbatim. While one of The Gigolos’ winning traits was the semi-improvised performances that lent a loose sense of character to the piece, Cuckoo reeks of to-the-letter recitation which, while not inherently a fault, draws critical attention to the many failings of the script. Ultimately, one finds themselves watching a collection of otherwise talented actors shifting uncomfortably as they wait for their next line.
Without mentioning the obvious, Grant is predominantly a comic actor, as is Tamsin Greig (who plays Simon), woefully underused in a menial and functional part that smacks of plot device. While such deviation lends a certain unsettling quality to the actors’ scenes, it also reminds that anything played with such austere seriousness rarely makes as significant an impact as a good humoured (read: accessible) piece and that severity is also a considerable target for ridicule. It is this struggle for stern sincerity that ironically highlights the silliness of the central concept and sinks the film.
Calling on all the obvious cinematic frameworks of Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick et al, Cuckoo is a convoluted and drab thriller that fancies itself as unconventional and disjointed, but ends up as simply shallow and tiresome. One can’t help but wish for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) to swoop into the fray and show Bracewell how deranged and dazzling cinema can be.