You can clearly see what Rebekah Fortune is aiming for with her debut feature Deadly Intent. A tense, claustrophobic chiller with supernatural themes places the film right in the same territory as The Babadook, but this unavoidable comparison does Fortune’s film no favours whatsoever.
Following the death of her husband Steve (Lloyd) in Afghanistan, Bryony (Reaney) is trying to rebuild her life and that of her insular young son James (Barry). As James’ temper tantrums become increasingly violent and worryingly regular she moves in with her sister Lisa (Lemon), but they soon realise there is something more sinister at work.
There are things to admire in Deadly Intent. The direction is crisp, almost documentary-like at times, which succeeds in drawing you into the melodrama while also keeping you at a respectful distance. As James, Gus Barry avoids the most obvious pitfalls of child actors, remaining just the right side of irritating, and does draw a certain amount of sympathy from the audience for his obvious plight. Where the film struggles, is in maintaining a level of constant tension as the script and story become increasingly repetitive, offering little of interest or intrigue as we build towards a predictable and lacklustre final act. Glasses shatter and wardrobes mysteriously tumble as Fortune and writer Diana Townsend tick off a list of spooky occurrences without any real conviction.
There is also a question over the motives of the ‘bad guy’. The film is peppered with flashbacks showing Steve suffering from an intense case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Rendered short-tempered and aggressive to his wife, Steve is initially extremely over-protective of his son. As his condition worsens one particularly horrific act never feels fully earned or genuine, leading to any potential empathy for the character rapidly disappearing.
Issues also exist within the script. With Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook you really sympathise with a mother whose sanity is being pushed to breaking point by a deeply troubled child. In Deadly Intent, that connection never materialises as Bryony verbally lashes out at James every time something happens. Their relationship never feels strong enough, and their interactions feel poorly written and ultimately unconvincing.
Despite the positives, Deadly Intent never manages to satisfactorily overcome its negatives. It is a film lacking the depth required to carry off the psychological or supernatural elements and as such feels very flat in its finale.
DEADLY INTENT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: REBEKAH FORTUNE / SCREENPLAY: DIANA TOWNSEND / STARRING: REBECCA REANEY, GUS BARRY, ADAM BIRDSEY, PETER LLOYD, IAN BIRDSEY, JAMES FAZAKERLEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW