‘Cordelia’ is a Thriller with a Missing Puzzle Piece

The psychological thriller Cordelia recently gained some traction when it sparked a massive, far-reaching horny uproar on Twitter over its promotional poster, which features Johnny Flynn, who plays Frank, and Antonia Campbell-Hughes as the lead Cordelia, in a roles-reversed pose, with Campbell-Hughes pinning Flynn against a wall. Needless to say, it was pretty effective marketing. 

The movie itself, which is directed by Adrian Shergold, follows the protagonist Cordelia, as she spends a weekend alone, away from her twin sister (also played by Campbell-Hughes) for the first time after surviving a subway bombing. The paranoia and survivor’s guilt that Cordelia experiences is evident throughout the film by the way she interacts with others and how she modifies her everyday routine to avoid anything that reminds her of the trauma she’s been through. She relies heavily on her twin sister Caroline, who is the only person she trusts, but despite the bond they share, their relationship feels somewhat one-sided, with her sister not fully understanding and empathizing with the difficulties and complexities of Cordelia’s PTSD.

Things abruptly shift when she runs into her upstairs neighbor, Frank, a friendly, seemingly harmless “nice guy”.  Frank and Cordelia hit it off immediately, and despite his insistence on pushing her boundaries (e.g. convincing her to take the subway with him to work and meeting him for a drink), she allows herself to open up to him just a bit, because she likes him, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Cordelia quickly discovers that Frank isn’t the kind, charming, harmless heartthrob he made himself out to be, and from there begins an ongoing power-play, with each person attempting to keep up appearances and further seduce, or break the other. This is where Cordelia is at its best, a dramatic push and pull between two characters who have very, very complicated feelings for eachother. 

Cordelia skillfully builds tension through its back-to-horror-basics camera work, carefully following Cordelia around the corners of her house and intently lingering on her as even more secrets unfold. Space is important in this film, the empty apartments, crowded subways and streets, and the space shared between two people.  Much of the horror comes from the instinct that something is wrong, that there might be someone watching your every move,  creating a version of yourself in their head that is deeply distorted and torn from reality. Cordelia and Frank’s relationship (if you can even call it one) is built on desperation and loneliness. A longing to connect while having no clue how to do it effectively. Frank especially has difficulty with this, as his methods cross boundaries and are deeply, deeply disturbing. Despite their shared loneliness, Frank and Cordelia are worlds apart. Cordelia sits with her shame and guilt, acknowledging how much it affects her relationships and daily life, while Frank shoves his down as far as possible, denying its existence at all. 

Where Cordelia falls short is its third act, in a conclusion which leaves you rather unsatisfied and confused. Some might like how it ends — all the more power to you — but it feels somewhat scattered and disjointed. As Cordelia and Frank become more intimate with each other, the two take part in an emotionally manipulative duel that strips any semblance of normalcy from them, leaving them both almost unrecognizable. Frank in particular stands out, because unlike Cordelia, there isn’t much that seems to explain his actions other than the loneliness he feels. Cordelia feels the same way, and we can see some of the roots of this; her trauma, suvivor’s guilt, and being in the shadow of her much more outgoing and lively sister. This being said, for both characters, it still feels like there’s something missing, one little detail that could effectively connect the way they act towards each other when things come to ahead. Cordelia will have you craving that one missing puzzle piece, because without this, it feels incomplete. 

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