Canadian filmmaker Nicole Dorsey’s first feature Black Conflux was the first film I watched for TIFF this year, and it’s also the one that has taken up residency in my brain the longest. A simultaneous look at growing up as a young woman in a small town and a scathing, unsettling takedown of toxic masculinity, Black Conflux finds Dorsey placing both of her main characters on an increasingly tense collision course without ever once going in expected or cliched directions.
Set in Newfoundland circa 1987 (although it doesn’t really need to be outside of a couple of strong soundtrack choices), Black Conflux tells the concurrent stories of fifteen year old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) and nearly middle aged Dennis (Ryan McDonald). Jackie has plenty of friends, but she’s unsure of the motives of teenage boys, probably because her mother is a terrible judge of men. Dennis, a loner who lives with his sister and works at the local brewery, has a low and increasingly violent opinion of women and no real friends.
Dorsey has a true gift for nailing the sometimes subtextually eerie rhythms of daily life – both visually and through her assured script, with Ballentine, McDonald, and the supporting cast enhancing these beats greatly – and Black Conflux stays captivating without becoming an outright horror film and only occasionally lapsing into thriller territory as it heads towards the climax. What Dorsey really wants to create is a minor key tragedy that lingers and raises just as many questions as it gives answers in return. If you think that Dorsey might be foreshadowing something, you might be right and you might be wrong, but the filmmaker never cheats the audience, preferring to leave things vague if it means giving them easy answers. Black Conflux is the type of film that you’ll keep thinking about long after you’ve left the theatre.