Psychosis is the feature-length debut of writer-director Pirie Martin. The horror thriller begins with Cliff Van Aarle (Derryn Amoroso) on his latest assignment. This fixer listens as two would-be drug dealers confusingly detail how and why dead bodies wound up on their floor. It turns out the men are peddling on the turf of the feared druglord Joubini (James McCluskey-Garcia) after stealing another pusher’s recipe.
Cliff’s attempts to clean up this mess, both the dead bodies and its fallout, result in a drug-fueled odyssey. He encounters “zombies,” people Joubini drugs up and hypnotizes, effectively brainwashing them to do his bidding. Unfortunately, Cliff suffers from the titular diagnosis, which manifests as auditory hallucinations. Can he shake off his over-reliance on coffee, trust what he sees and hears, and escape Australia’s criminal underworld intact?
Psychosis is an insane thriller from the jump. The black-and-white cinematography, courtesy of Isaac Szepessy, adds a noir vibe, which is appropriate for the story’s beginning. Once Cliff gets in over his head, the monochrome look makes everything appear much more otherworldly. The effects are top-notch, being a cross between early Cronenberg and Neil Johnson’s filmography. These elements all add up to a surreal experience that is equal parts engaging and horrifying.
“…the men are peddling on the turf of the feared druglord Joubini after stealing another pusher’s recipe.”
Unfortunately, though, the voices the lead hears are hard to totally make out. Mind you, not in the intentional sense but in an audio mixing way. The film starts with those voices, and they are so low I could not hear them. I turned up the volume and rewound the screener — still nothing. I had to put on the captions to finally understand what was being said. I left the captions on for the rest of the 99-minute runtime. Considering how often Cliff hears them, it is frustrating that they are mixed so poorly that they cannot be readily heard very well.
But, the cast of Psychosis does an excellent job throughout. Amoroso is perfect as Cliff. By turns stoic, manic, confused, and brave (though not necessarily in that order), the actor makes each unbelievable twist make as much sense as possible. McCluskey-Garcia is terrifying as the big bad, while Mark Healy is hilarious as the drug creator No-Arms.
Psychosis is offbeat and surreal, exactly as Martin intended. While the audio mixing could use some work, the film still works. It looks great, and the effects are well utilized. The acting is standout, though, as each cast member works wonderfully to bring this strange tale to life.
"…offbeat and surreal..."