Review: ‘Black Conflux’ is a confident first feature from director Nicole Dorsey

Small town living can be, in a word, stifling. Yet, as much as it can be peaceful, they can also feel like grue traps, holding you in place. Black Conflux follows two people in small-town Newfoundland whose lives are wholly disconnected, but never the less on a collision course. The inevitability of this collision lends the entire film a sense of menace, dread, and purpose. Being set against the peaceful and serene backdrop only heightens it.

It’s 1987, and Jackie (Ella Ballentine) is a high school student just at the age of rebellion. She is a choir girl, and she is also starting to experiment with drinking, drugs, and sexuality. She lives with her aunt, herself a hard-drinking party girl, which leaves Jackie without much in the way of guidance through, or protection from, the perils involved in those experimentations.

Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is a frustrated, angry brewery worker. He grapples with self-loathing and internalized misogyny and routinely hallucinates a harem of women who alternately desire and deride him. He is, in case it isn’t clear, a powder keg of rage waiting to explode.

Black Conflux
Ryan McDonald as Dennis / Black Conflux

Their paths, set by Jackie running with the wrong crowd and Dennis’ inability to socialize healthily, becomes inescapable. When they finally do collide, the result is unpredictable and perhaps off-putting, but nonetheless compassionate.

Ballentine and McDonald both entirely own their parts. Ballentine is wonderful as Jackie, walking a line between in control and out and portraying the internal conflict that teenagers go through with a natural and sensitive performance.

McDonald’s performance is similar in its duality, but Dennis’s demons are constantly trying to get the better of him, and the rage that fuels him is always bubbling just beneath the surface. There are no moments when Dennis isn’t in some state of anger and self-loathing, and the women in his life, both real and imagined, seem to confirm his worth –or lack thereof– at every turn, at least in his eyes.

Black Conflux
Ella Ballentine as Jackie / Black Conflux

Dorsey has crafted something special here, the kind of film that not many people end up seeing, but those of us who do get to say that we saw her before she broke big. Her filmmaking chops are bonafide and exemplified by her control of tone and pacing, culminating with a minutes-long single-take dance scene performed by McDonald that wordlessly sums up his entire being.

Black Conflux is not an easy film, and its ending may leave some viewers cold, but the filmmaking skill that is on display here, as well as the performances involved, make it entirely worth your time. Just be warned that the Canadian pop-rock hit Moonlight Desires will be stuck in your head for days afterwards.

Black Conflux will be released on-demand this Friday, August 27th.


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