Remember the movie poster of a woman pushing a man up against a wall, pressing into his back with her mouth on his ear? Yes? Well, the movie, Cordelia, is finally releasing stateside, and well, it is not exactly what one might have expected from that sultry poster. The poster, which took off on social media and started an art campaign with people recreating the pose with their favorite romantic pairings, promised a version of Cordelia that could have been. The final cut of the film is a profoundly intriguing psychological thriller, but the possibility of a slightly more erotic psychological thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction was tantalizingly close to being realized.
Co-written by director Adrian Shergold and Campbell-Hughes, Cordelia follows a troubled woman (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) suffering from a traumatic event that derailed her life. Cordelia attempts to reclaim her power and overcome the stress, anxiety, and trauma of surviving a tragic event. She is acting in a play and becoming attracted to Frank (Johnny Flynn), the cello player who lives in the apartment above her. Amid her recovery, hope is renewed with a possible romance, only for that hope to be fleeting after certain revelations occur in the second and third acts. One weekend her twin sister Caroline (also Campbell-Hughes) leaves on a trip with her boyfriend, leaving Cordelia to fend for herself. At the precipice of a new chapter of her life, Cordelia finds herself questioning everything when someone starts taunting her with prank calls.
The build-up to the iconic moment with Campbell-Hughes pushing Flynn up against the wall is a slow-burn, yet effectively alluring one. Bit by bit, the atmosphere is filled with tension and suspense as Cordelia grapples with her mental fortitude in the face of uncertain danger. However, as the film reaches the climax and all is to be revealed, it suddenly pulls the rug and stops short of perfection. Despite a dynamic lead performance from Campbell-Hughes and a charming turn from Flynn, the film smacks into a wall in its third act when it fails to fully realize the characters’ relationship. The ending offers no resolution and no clarity as to what Cordelia and Frank are to each other.
While the actors brilliantly play against each other, giving us that oh-so-sweet taste of the erotic psychological thriller promised in that poster, the end simply fails them and fails the audience, too. The scene itself is masterfully done, with the entire sequence ramping up the drama as Cordelia steps into her power and prepares to face danger head on, but the moment of triumph quickly dwindles when the answers to viewers’ questions don’t get answered. That feeling of dissatisfaction isn’t about wishing for another movie. The narrative is barreling towards a conclusion that has these two at each other’s mercy, with only one of them destined to come out of it alive. However, the conclusion is unsatisfactory because it ultimately gives audiences nothing.
Cordelia is a puzzle that feels incomplete. From the first scene, the film builds upon the uncertainty and promise of an explosive finale. But, when it reaches its seemingly inevitable conclusion, it retracts and leaves viewers in the dark. While the narrative leaves a lot to be desired, the film as a whole is quite engaging. It is a psychological thriller that knows how to play on its audience’s emotions. Natalie Holt’s score shoots straight for the heart as it pulls one into this stressful event. The score is paired beautifully with Tony Slater Ling’s cold and somber cinematography. Shergold’s directing pulls out all the stops to ensure the audience is thoroughly immersed in Cordelia’s journey.
As the film’s heroine deals with an identity crisis, finding herself as she overcomes trauma, the film itself is undergoing a similar journey. Like Cordelia, it starts off as unassuming, but it becomes increasingly unpredictable and intriguing as she carries on. As she hits the proverbial wall, so does the film. Cordelia is frustratingly good at getting under the skin, but it becomes more frustrating than good as it nears its finale. And no amount of stellar acting or competent filmmaking can overcome a shoddy ending.
Cordelia released in theaters and on demand Friday, May 20. It is 92 minutes long and not rated.