Review: The Gallery

Written and directed by Paul Raschid, an art curator is held hostage by a portraitist who threatens to detonate a bomb unless their demands are met. Exploring two interactive narratives, one set in 1981 and the other in 2021. Starring: Anna Popplewell, George Blagden, Rebecca Root, Shannon Tarbet, Richard Fleeshman, Dajay Brown, Jason Harvey and Keon Martial-Phillip.

Creating an interactive film is one of those concepts which is fantastic yet elusive, a wonderful idea that’s an extremely difficult thing to pull off well. The Gallery is a great example of that because while there is a fun, interesting narrative at its heart, it does also fall prey to a few of the typical issues. It offers up a key question of how interactive it needs to be and how many choices do you need to provide your audience? Because of course, the more you include, the bigger the task becomes for how many scenes and alternative paths you have to film, which can snowball into a gargantuan undertaking. Here it feels as though it needed to either up the number of choices or shorten the scenes, it still has the feel of a film and it does a good job of letting its viewers impact the outcome of the story but it’s quite slow.

The ratio simply isn’t on the money for how many choices you’re getting versus the scenes in-between, one of the problems with that is it doesn’t really encourage viewers to go back and find the other scenes. The same goes for experiencing the different versions of the story, there are changes but not enough that you won’t almost entirely know exactly where it’s going once you’ve watched one of them. It would have been great to see a bigger separation between the two, to vary the experience more. However, that’s not to say the differences that are there, aren’t well done. Paul Raschid’s writing adds in a number of interesting adaptations moving from one era to the other, adjusting the language, the behaviours and general social and cultural awareness of the characters.

Directorially, it’s following that same path, each atmosphere and aesthetic feels extremely well suited to the era it takes place in. The cinematography from Haridas Stewart in the 1981 narrative almost feels like a post-war television drama, it’s softer and warmer, whereas evoking 2021, it’s sharper and deeper in its use of colour. There are some expected problems with smoothness of editing, as it faces the inherent difficulty of having to cut together the different outcomes based on the viewer’s choices, so it can tend to jerk from one scene to the next rather than a casual transition. There’s also a variety in the quality of the visual, there’s some more predictable shots that don’t work as well but some superb close up shots which add a good level of detail and enhance the atmosphere.

Anna Popplewell and George Blagden both lead the film well, fitting smoothly into both roles of predator and prey. They build a good chemistry from both sides of the blade and in both iterations they have a charm to them, whether it be devilish, curious, resilient or sharp-witted. Interestingly it feels like they both revel in the 2021 narrative, Popplewell becomes a very satisfyingly unforgiving presence while Blagden is a great representation of the moral ambiguity that the story explores. They’re both equally as convincing and engaging, and manipulating their relationship and power dynamic is one of the interactive element’s strongest inclusions.

The Gallery has a great concept and you can see the sincere dedication and thought that have gone into the execution. Unfortunately, it just plays out too slowly, it needed to speed things up and grab itself a sharper pacing to intensify the experience. The number of choices it allows you to make would be suited to a shorter runtime. The story is there, the acting is wonderful, it’s very interesting to watch the shifting dynamics, both in the plot and in the swapped roles, but it’s not really giving you enough reason to go back and discover more. It’s a terrific idea and it’s definitely one of the better examples of interactive film but there’s still work to be done to find that elusive perfect blend of film and game.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Screening at London Games Festival as an official side event from March 29th to April 7th 2023

Celebrated its UK premiere at Independent Directions (INDIs) Film Festival on 22 February

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