The Portrait review – knotty psychodrama with a dark, menacing power


Imon Ross’s impressive first film could be included in a collection of movies featuring unsettling paintings, such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, Ghostbusters 2, and In the Mouth of Madness. Sofia (played by Natalia Córdova-Buckley), who has become a caregiver for her husband Alex (played by Ryan Kwanten) after he became catatonic, discovers a peculiar painting in the attic of their mansion. The painting is said to be a self-portrait of Alex’s great-grandfather, but Sofia is shocked to see that it looks exactly like Alex. Although the plot follows a classic gothic storyline and explores themes of psychological drama, Ross adds his own twist by infusing it with a unnerving inner turmoil that shows promise for his future work.

Sofia, who appears to be a loving and patient spouse, has a hidden secret: she caused her husband Alex’s brain injury during an argument. Hoping to help him regain his memories, Sofia brings him back to their family’s home, but instead uncovers a disturbing past. When she asks about a portrait in the house, she learns that the man depicted was a violent individual. Stuck in the house with minimal interaction from the well-spoken gardener Brookes and eccentric cousin Mags, Sofia starts to feel the weight of her husband’s gaze upon her.

Credit to whoever created the brushwork, which has a spectral and foreboding quality. There is a sense of impending violence, with an unsettling uncertainty about its origin – whether it is supernatural markings, repressed resentment from Alex, or a manifestation of Sofia’s guilt. It is this psychological complexity that gives the film its strength, rather than cliché jump scares and typical haunted house elements found in The Portrait. Córdova-Buckley, with her rough voice, grounds the film and later turns to alcohol and makes a clumsy advance towards the gardener. With her assistance, Ross elevates an old frame with a commanding dark aura.