After attending TIFF 2019 and seeing many festival favorites, I was left with a similar impression, with how the majority of films that I saw at the fest, never felt influential to me. That was until I saw Black Conflux from writer-director Nicole Dorsey. It’s a film that follows a very simplistic narrative, centralizing around only a few characters; that felt like an extreme raw experience.
We follow two parallel stories in the film. The first is a coming of age story revolving around 15-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) as she navigates her suburbia and all the typical high school troubles that surround it. The second is about recluse Dennis, (Ryan McDonald) as he projects his disdain and inadequacy he feels for his own life onto those around him. These two seemingly unrelated stories, end up converging during a critical moment in the lives of both characters, set in 1987 Newfoundland.
I feel as though this is a film that could be viewed with many different interpretations, but the one that I perceived it as, is a commentary on toxic relationships and friendships. During the Q&A following the film, Dorsey said that she liked to avoid the term ‘toxic masculinity’, which is why I have avoided completely in this review. This dislike for the term comes across in her picture, with both the men and women suffering from toxicity in their own respective lives. It’s a film that doesn’t preach a side; rather it shows how both men and women can suffer from an inadequacy complex, shaping both character’s lives.
Dennis is frequently visited by visions of women, presumably ex-girlfriends that he feels as though he’s wronged, who continue terrorizing his every move. A projection from his subconscious onto the viewer, showing us how distraught the relationships in his life have left him. He spends the film drifting aimlessly, avoiding human contact at nearly all costs. That is, until he encounters Amber (Olivia Scriven), a hitch-hiking friend of Jackie’s. Their story-lines converge momentarily, to be abruptly ended when Dennis reaches over to help the her. Amber misconstrues this reach for something else, and leaves.
And then we have Jackie. Seemingly defined by an un-specified incident involving her mother in prison, she shyly goes about her life, as any high-schooler might. Where I have to sing my praise for the teenage performances, is during a drunken party scene. I’ve seen countless films where actors have tried to accurately portray drunk teens, but none of them compare to the accuracy here.
What I’m trying to get at by identifying some short scenes, moments and performances, is to show how genuine this film is. I can see someone in my own life, in each and every one of these characters. I can see an event which took place at my own high school, with each of these events onscreen. Thus, shows the universality of this story and how other coming of age films haven’t shown anything like this before. I’ve always had a soft-spot for the genre, but this goes far beyond that.
Black Conflux surpasses the realm of realist film-making and enters the real world itself. Jackie and Dennis’ paths fatefully converge, in a moment when both characters suffer from an extraordinary inadequacy complex and major trust issues. Relationships have never been so toxic and extreme; and Canadian cinema has never shown something quite like this before.
Black Conflux screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The film is currently seeking international distribution