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Strawberry Mansion (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney, US, 2021, 91 mins

Cast: Penny Fuller, Kentucker Audley, Grace Glowicki, Linas Phillips

Review by Ben Thomas

Strawberry Mansion is a futuristic, sci-fi romance from co-directors Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney. Government agent James Preble (Kentucker Audley) travels to a remote farmhouse to audit the dreams of Arabella “Bella” Isadora (Penny Fuller), an eccentric, ageing artist.

Bella has a vast VHS archive, containing a lifetime of dreams, which Preble begins to trawl through. As he delves deeper and deeper into the unconscious of “Bella”, he discovers more about himself and the structures of the world he lives in.

Strawberry Mansion is conceptually very strong. The central idea lays out themes of corporate control, capitalist conditioning and individual freedom. It is a genuinely novel film, alarming and confusing in equal measure. It is an esoteric world we are introduced to, part-Burton and part-Lynch, that is both reserved and ridiculous.

The hazy cinematography helps to create the various dream worlds with seamless ease. The expressive colours evoke nostalgia and displacement, images are grainy almost as if we’re watching moments through a sea of white noise. The nature of watching people’s dreams is alluded to, particularly during a reversal scene in which Bella is shown to be watching James watching her dreams, but this is not expanded upon. Despite this, there remains a voyeuristic undertone throughout the opening movement of the film.

Strawberry Mansion threatens to expound something bigger, wider and higher, but it settles into the somewhat familiar beats of a romance. The story falls short of the core concept, which is brilliantly radical and sinister, as the film doesn’t sufficiently deal with the implications of governmental expansion into the unconscious. The film morphs into a dream-like chase film, abandoning much of its initial critique. Though the intent is commendable, Strawberry Mansion suffers from a lack of conviction. Some of the motifs stick but others lack enough clarity or meaning.

Perhaps more absurd than it is engaging, Strawberry Mansion lives on the edge of your interest — occasionally captivating and sometimes dragging. The film isn’t particularly well-paced, though relatively short. It doesn’t gradually open out, nor does it sufficiently jolt you into fixation. The film delves in and out of dream logic, and while this is not ordinarily a problem, the execution is ultimately mixed. 

Bulldog Film Distribution presents Strawberry Mansion in select cinemas and on demand 16 September