From the opening scene, Soul Custody, the latest film from writer and director V. Vansay Zanubon, reels you in with beautiful drone and landscape shots contrasted with a horrific car accident which set the tone for the rest of the film.
Although the film was screened at the Toronto Black Film Festival, it would be hard to simply categorize it as a “Black film”. The film highlights universal themes and subject matter―jealousy, fear, mental health and escapism―that will resonate with any audience.
Soul Custody tells the story of husband and wife, Greg and Lauren Monaghan (played by Hollywood legend Clifton Powell and Asha Bee) who are both dealing with their inner demons which are having a negative impact on both their marriage and adolescent child Victoria (played by Noa Kaiser).
Despite solid acting from Asha Bee and Clifton Powell, the acting from the supporting cast could have been better. Soul Custody also has a pretty a slow build up and is at times hard to follow. It takes time to piece together what is happening and the central storyline. One line from the lead actress is very telling―“I’m just all over the place.” The story felt that way at times as well. Also, some characters and scenes seemed unnecessary.
But as the story evolves you realize that everything you thought was a flaw was by design and that is where V. Vansay Zanubon’s genius is revealed. Through the flashbacks and time jumps, the story is meant to unfold over time, piece by piece. You are not supposed to understand what is happening right away. Zanubon refrains from insulting the viewer by explaining everything right out the gate. You are not meant to understand the relationships between certain characters right away or how they fit into the story. You are meant to question why certain characters, like the elderly neighbour Mrs. Jones, were included in the film.
All of the creative decisions you question throughout the film are pulled together in a series of unexpected twists and aha moments. Every detail had meaning. Every line was intentional. Every character was essential.
In the end, we were left with some of the best storytelling at TBFF 2020.