Love hurts in more ways than one in Kieran Evans’ Kelly + Victor (2012), an impressive low-budget UK indie which, despite a couple of narrative missteps, still manages to be an absorbing and passionate look at sexuality and the need for connection – however extreme. Victor (Julian Morris) meets Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) in a loved-up haze whilst out clubbing and both are immediately smitten with each other. During their first sexual encounter it’s clear there’s a darkness which sits beneath Kelly’s meek exterior, as she seems to revel in the masochistic approach of asphyxiating Victor to climax.
Victor happily yields to Kelly’s behaviour as it awakens a latent sensation within him. As the pair begin to take those tentative steps towards romance and love, Kelly’s insistence in pushing their violent bedroom encounters to even more extremes threatens to destroy the brief harmony they’ve found with each other. Kelly + Victor begins in a fragmented, dream-like state, but this debut narrative feature from Evans strives for an authenticity not too dissimilar to the intimate and probing milieu of Weekend (2011), with the added DNA of both Ken Loach and Lynn Ramsay. A strong sense of place is also achieved throughout, and we see a mixture of a contemporary, gentrified Liverpool alongside the decaying docklands.
Kelly + Victor is terrific at capturing that bubble-like, hermetic feeling which stems from new love and discovery, until things turn decidedly sour. It’s a taboo subject handled with sensitivity by Evans, who is able to keep things grounded and convincing largely down to this strong cast, particularly the impressive leads. Their scouse accents may waver slightly on occasion, but titular duo Campbell-Hughes and Morris give thoughtful and incredibly committed performances. The intimate scenes the couple share bristle with a fevered urgency and genuine danger, rendering them difficult to watch at times.
Because the rapport between the actors is so good, when they’re apart on screen, the film meanders slightly and can’t quite match the dramatic weight of those combustible interactions between the pair. The predictably downbeat ending undoes some of the good work that has come before, and it also means Kelly + Victor is that one step away from genuine greatness, but what remains is still a powerful piece of work which has the ability to shock and disturb without sliding into sensationalism.