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Film Review: The Darkest Universe @ East End Film Festival 2016

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★★★

Young, starry-eyed and home-grown filmmakers Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley strike back with another dark, trippy and British-flavoured treat. 

The BAFTA-nominated pair, who recently brought the wickedly funny and gorgeously shot sitcom Flowers to Channel 4, take things into even darker territory with their second feature. 

The Darkest Universe finds muddled, busy-body banker Zac (Sharpe) taking to the streets of London and eventually, Britain, to find his eccentric sister Alice (co-writer Tiani Ghosh) who disappears one day with her boyfriend Toby (The Inbetweeners' Joe Thomas) on a canal boat. 

Documenting his seemingly endless search for her online in a series of vlogs, Zac gradually begins to lose touch with reality, passing through the lives of others whilst letting his own gradually slip away out of view. 

It's an exceedingly contemporary tale, but not one that's ever flashy about its youthful knowledge of the present. Sharpe and Kingsley spend much of their time weaving in and out of classically composed flashbacks and Zac's grainy self-shot vlogging footage which although might seem a tad jarring to some, works wonders in the overall chronicling of his gradual mental decline. 

Sharpe himself may not be the most patient actor, but his frantic delivery certainly helps to nail a character teetering on the edge, refusing to accept his fate. The supporting cast are similarly well-chosen, although it is rare that they are given enough space to truly explore their characters. 

Ghosh and Thomas's relationship for example is frustratingly underdeveloped, whilst a hammily-accented Sophia Di Martino (one of the strongest performers in Flowers) seems to sadly fade into little more than an outdated European stereotype here.   

This is somewhat forgivable though considering the strength of the film's overall toning. It's certainly not a character-study by any stretch of the imagination, but much more of a finely-tuned mood piece. Kingsley and Sharpe as a team have certainly mastered the art of creating unsettling atmospheres and here they do so straight from the off. 

Everything from the quietly mystical cinematography to the outstandingly eerie creeping score adds up to a low-rent British feature with a great deal of character and promise. An encouraging statement for the filmmakers of tomorrow. 

Although far from being particularly accessible, The Darkest Universe is a bleak but exciting delight, marking its directing duo as definite figures to watch.     

The Darkest Universe is screening as part of the 2016 East End Film Festival. More info can be found here

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