Review: ‘Cordelia’

Antonia Campbell-Hughes And Adrian Shergold's Psychological Horror Film Doesn't Know What It's Paranoid About

In Cordelia, the titular character is struggling to maintain her sanity after experiencing a subway bombing almost a decade previously. She lives with her twin sister in her father’s old apartment, not going anywhere except for the theater in which she works.

The Adrian Shergold directed film starts out as a slow burn melodrama. His leading lady and co-writer Antonia Campbell-Hughes, glides through each scene with a Sally Hawkins like energy. When her sister and new beau (Joel Fry) announce they’re going out of town, the in-recovery Cordelia starts to panic which is only made worse by a stalker constantly calling her and breathing into the phone.

What really breaks down is when the horror elements start popping up. When alone she starts to imagine passengers that perished on the train, especially one that took her seat. Shergold’s direction is so ambiguous that you not only don’t know which things are real or in Cordelia’s mind, you don’t even know the latter is a possibility There is tension there but you don’t know exactly where it’s coming from. Overall, the last third of Campbell-Hughes and Shergold’s script and feels like a series of ideas rather than an ending to a grounded psychological horror film.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes aesthetic works for this part. Her angular features and waif-like appearance gives Cordelia a ghost like quality. The film rests entirely on her shoulders and while a lot of the script and plot development fall flat due to its ambiguous nature, she is still captivating to watch.

Playing opposite her as her mysterious leading man is Johnny Flynn, best known recently for playing Mr. Knightly in Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. Flynn’s energy is enigmatic and the most cohesive thing about Cordelia. Some moments he has to be menacing, others a charming and witty leading man. He nails the execution for all aspects of his character.

Cordelia was filmed before the pandemic and was initially released overseas in 2019. Since then Fry’s career has taken off with projects like Cruella and Our Flag Means Death, but to have him show up for a few short scenes feels like a crime. Michael Gambon is only in one brief scene, making him critically underused and not directly vital to the plot. Why have his eccentric neighbor character there at all?

While watching its hard not to make comparisons to Hulu’s Fresh, the horror comedy about modern dating starring Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar Jones. Both are trying to say the same thing – about men, about female trauma. Both use romantic comedy troupes to endear you to the male lead. However, because Cordelia tries to be more abstract with its messaging and more nuanced, the entire point of the film is lost.

Watch the trailer below. Cordelia is available in theaters and on demand.

Cortland Jacoby
A D.C area native, Cortland has been interested in media since birth. Taking film classes in high school and watching the classics with family instilled a love of film in Cortland’s formative years. Before graduating with a degree in English and minoring in Film Study from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, Cortland ran the college’s radio station, where she frequently reviewed films on air. She then wrote for another D.C area publication before landing at Punch Drunk Critics. Aside from writing and interviewing, she enjoys podcasts, knitting, and talking about representation in media.
review-cordeliaDespite a fascinating premise, Adrian Shergold and Antonia Campbell-Hughes fail to create a coherent and dynamic third act for the psychological thriller 'Cordelia'.