In 2015 writer/director Nicole Dorsey created a short film called Dennis, about a simple man who lived in his sister’s basement. Dennis wasn’t as simple as he seemed however. He lived with an undiagnosed psychosis that made him act differently than everyone else. For her first feature film Dorsey went back to Dennis to craft a story that explores him deeper. She also compares him with an anxious teenage girl trying to find her way through life. The result is Black Conflux.
Taking place in late 1980’s suburban Newfoundland, Black Conflux tells the stories of fifteen-year-old Jackie (Ella Ballentine) as she tries to find her way to adulthood. It also tells the story of Dennis (Ryan McDonald) who is desperately trying to figure out what it real and what’s not. Jackie’s mom is in prison, forcing her to live with her alcoholic aunt. An aunt who doesn’t provide much more than food and shelter. She feels pressured by her friends to party, skip school, steal from the local mall and have sex.
Those pressures make Jackie ignore her own wants, which include being part of the school’s choir. Jackie is looking for her own identity, but is having trouble finding it. Dennis on the other hand is having problems of his own. He’s a socially inept loner. He would rather spend his time fanaticizing that women adore him than going out on dates. His co-workers don’t understand him, nor does his sister who he lives with. He skirts the line between real life and fantasy, and is having trouble telling the difference between them.
While Black Conflux doesn’t offer anything truly unique, it does tell a compelling story that keeps you glued to the screen. This is simply because both of the lead actors, Ballentine and McDonald, are so good at playing their characters. So much so that you want to know what comes next for them. You cheer for Jackie and pity Dennis, while hoping they both make the right decisions. They hardly share any screen time. But the juxtaposition between the two of them is apparent and makes for good storytelling. The film also doesn’t overplay its hand. And it leaves plenty of questions afterwards that you can only guess at the answers for. It’s always refreshing to see a film that doesn’t play the audience for dumb and force feed them every step of the way.
Black Conflux is an engaging movie that is never dull and always interesting. It’s a character study that is partly a coming of age tale, and partly a story of someone lost along the road of life. In the end, Jackie and Dennis may have a lot of similarities, but they are miles apart when it comes to their lives.