Scotland the Grave: ‘Repression’ is a Twisty Thriller with an Ambitious Premise

In a futile attempt to outrun a personal tragedy, child psychiatrist Marianne (Thekla Reuten) leaves America behind for the ominous streets of Aberdeen. Her first patient, a troubled boy called Manny (Elijah Wolf), says little. Instead, he draws sinister crayon pictures of terrible accidents. As she learns about the disappearance of her predecessor and studies his case notes, Marianne begins to share his theory. She comes to believe that Manny has some sort of connection to the accidents and tragedies that have been happening recently, just as his drawings predict.

It’s a fairly generic premise, and although the film hints at more ambitious themes – referencing things like Schrodinger’s Cat and multiverses – it never manages to escape a quagmire of stale tropes and bland genre fixtures. The performances, particularly from Reuten, who plays the part of a scholar pushed to the brink of madness expertly, are strong throughout. Even smaller parts like those played by Rebecca Front and Peter Mullan are excellent and help to bring a certain realism to the film. However, these characters all feel constrained to predictable roles that could have been copied and pasted out of a dozen other supernatural thrillers.

In particular, the budding romance between Marianne and strapping Scotsman Kieran (Emun Elliott), is underdeveloped to the point that it feels more like an exercise in box-ticking than a relationship with emotional heft. As a result, the final act of the film, which spirals into some genuinely original and pleasingly mad twists and turns, feels a bit undeserved.

In terms of cinematography, the film is superb. The oppressive gloom of its depictions of Scottish landscapes isn’t going to entice any tourists to visit, but it certainly makes for a dramatic backdrop. From the opening scene, the film hints at enticing mysteries and dangers lurking in the shadows of the town. It’s a shame that the script isn’t quite up to the job of realising this promise.

The film focuses on ideas of determinism and free will, which is a weighty topic to try and unpick in such a limited time and on such a limited budget. Unfortunately, this ends up being quite an apt theme. Events in the film, for the most part, unfold in predictable ways, and the characters are shackled to prescribed roles dictated by the expectations of the genre. Aside from an impressively ambitious set of final twists, audiences are likely to leave their screenings with a sense of deja vu rather than unease.


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