Nominated for: Best UK Feature
Gozo is a vivid, Technicolor dream in which a young couple, who are madly in love, run away to the eponymous Maltese island. Soon, however, it becomes clear that they are running from a sordid past in which Joe’s (Joseph Kennedy) scorned ex-lover killed herself after finding the two of them. Lucille (Ophelia Lovibond) becomes increasingly aware of Joe’s odd behaviour, but is unable to prevent him from slipping into a terrifying insanity that leaves the audience tensed for the majority of the film.
Joseph Kennedy, who had the original idea for the story, said that he wanted to recreate the feeling of having two individuals locked in a lighthouse – senses of madness, isolation and suspicion. In Gozo, you have all of these. The island is seemingly an open, freeing place in which the two can spend lazy days swimming in their pool, diving, or collecting recordings of their favourite sounds. The island is depicted in beautiful cinematic detail; a rough natural allure mixed with desolate structures to create what Kennedy called ‘a hideous beauty’. It all quickly becomes claustrophobic however, with the characters seemingly free to wander, but ultimately never able to truly interact with many of the others – especially the locals. In this the film is also a comment on expat cultures, with the separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’ clear – they are outsiders who do not speak the language and this, too, traps them. However, even the Brits (and one American) create suspicion, with a barbeque party scene becoming almost animalistic in its close focused depiction of the characters, with everyone being just a bit too close for comfort.
“a chilling depiction of isolation, guilt, and perhaps also the dangers of trying to run away to a beautiful island”
The character of Riley (Daniel Lapaine) is also strange. The son of an expat who died recently, it is difficult not to question his reasons and motives throughout, especially after an early scene where the camera makes clear he is examining Lucille’s body. His character comes to chilling fruition with the line ‘don’t I get a reward for saving you?’ when talking to a dazed Lucille after a diving accident. Riley is an odd character; he somewhat detracts from the plot, but is also not explored enough – although Lapaine provides a skin-crawling performance.
The character of Joe is also stunningly performed. The premise that he is a sound engineer who is building some sort of collection of noises from different parts of the island works well. In the first incredibly tense scene we see him exploring a deserted building, from which he can hear a strange noise, and as he walks around the audience must also hear the all too close noises, the scuffs of shoes and the resulting jump-scare. Again, this isolates the character from the wider world – he is only able to experience the sounds that are directly surrounding him, and it creates intense scenes that slowly lead to his decay into madness. This Kennedy plays incredibly well. He creates deadness in his eyes, and an unresponsiveness later on, that are almost childlike. But this incapability unnerves – he is unable to control himself, to find his sanity and to escape the island. Lovibond is also convincing as Lucille, she too is suspicious, but cannot fix those around her – she is the victim preyed upon by both Riley and Joe in different ways, but who is ultimately able to escape.
Gozo is not something their tourism board will recommend: it is a chilling depiction of isolation, guilt, and perhaps also the dangers of trying to run away to a beautiful island. Nothing can be escaped, but in this stunning setting everything becomes grotesque – a dreamlike state that becomes more and more nightmarish. The film is worth seeing simply for the tension it creates, but also for how incredible it looks considering its low budget. No past can be avoided; it seems, no matter how far you run from it.
Image: Miranda Bowen 2016