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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.10.19] Canada thriller drama

For many high school students, the most important thing of their existence is finding a social group to fit into. Some find their place early on but others grow into equally awkward adults that never quite find their way. The assured feature debut of writer/director Nicole Dorsey, Black Conflux explores the lives of two very different individuals at two very different points of their lives but each of whom is working through issues that at their core, are exactly the same.

Dennis is a social outcast. Still living at home and working at the local brewery, he is prone to inappropriate outbursts, harbours feelings of self-entitlement, and is often visited by imaginary women who taunt and emasculate him. Jackie is a 15-year-old girl trying her best to fit in with the popular kids while also being true to herself.

On the surface, these two characters are completely different but as Dorsey explores the minutia of both of their lives, the similarities slowly begin to emerge. Here we have two people at vastly different points in their lives but both of whom are dealing with feelings of insecurity, isolation, and loneliness. At first, they both deal with those feelings in similar ways: with sudden public outbursts, but as the story develops, the way in which each deals with their issues begins to diverge.

For most of its running time, Black Conflux cuts back-and-forth between Jackie and Dennis with the pair occasionally passing each other on various occasions before coming together late in the third act. Dorsey infuses the movie, and particularly Dennis' storyline, with elements of a thriller and by the time the pair meets, there's a palpable air of suspense and a feeling that the encounter is going to end badly.

Dorsey gives the teenage drama at the centre of Jackie's life as well as Dennis' troubles, equal time though there is a distinct urgency and feeling that the consequences of Dennis' actions have the potential to be far more damaging to society as a whole than anything Jackie does. The fact that both storylines are so memorable is largely because of the performances from both Ella Ballentine and Ryan McDonald.

Set in the late 80s, the movie is beautifully designed by Melanie Garros who captures the essence of the period without being too in-your-face about the details, while cinematographer Marie Davignon captures the drama with a delicate eye that frequently focuses on the actor's emotive faces.

At the hands of a different writer and director, either storyline could easily have taken over, but Nicole Dorsey keeps careful balance and control of Black Conflux to deliver an impressive debut feature. Also worth noting that the film features a mesmerizing dance number set to Gowan's "Moonlight Desires" which I'm unlikely to forget any time soon.

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