Featuring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Richard Glover
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram with additional material by Amy Jump
Perth release date: Thursday 10th January
Reviewer: rolanstein (one-word verdict: singular)
30-something Tina (Alison Lowe), who lives an old maid existence in an apartment in the Midlands caring for her aged mother (Eileen Davies), is invited on a caravan tour of Yorkshire by new boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram). Soon into the trip, Chris shows he has a very short fuse; it doesn’t take much to light it, and anyone who does ends up dead!
In between a string of killings, the couple take in the environmental delights of picturesque Yorkshire and Chris’s favourite local tourist hotspots, such as the Keswick Pencil Museum. As the holiday progresses, they prove themselves criminally compatible (though increasingly less so romantically). The body count mounts, as does Tina’s resentment of Chris when he begins neglecting her in favour of new buddy Martin (Richard Glover), an inventor he meets at a caravan park. The trip has veered way off track. Where and how will it end? That is the question. The answer? Waaaaall…
The movie opens with a cracked caterwauling voiceover that sounds like an otherworldly cross between Eastern religious trance-chant, mournful keening and the meditative wailing of a tone-deaf crackpot! The camera reveals the source of the godawful noise as a pinch-faced elderly woman sitting on a sofa, staring straight ahead, glazed-eyed. Tina glances around the doorway and tentatively enters the room.
“Mum?” The keening continues unabated.
Multiple “mums” later, the old woman emerges from whatever state she’s been in. Turns out she’s mourning the loss of her dog, which died two years ago, accidentally impaled on Tina’s knitting needles!
The intro sets the tone for the rest of the movie: bizarre, creepy, jarring, sorta funny yet distinctly unpleasant, intriguing – and pretty bloody weird.
In fact, this number is so strange, so whacked out, that it resists neat categorisation. The promo billing – a “pitch-black comedy” – comes close enough, but while the film is indeed black, it’s not exactly a hoot. Yes, there are some laugh-aloud moments, one in particular involving Tina’s dog attempting to join Chris and her in a doggie (best not to think too hard about that). However, most of the time it’s hard to manage much more than a twisted half grimace/half smirk. OTOH, if you’re the type who automatically erupts in appreciative mirth at black comedy gore, prepare for a merry time. For me, the numerous bloody scenes are too realistic to qualify as splatter-schtick. And it doesn’t help that the two leads are most unappealing characters.
That said, Chris and Tina are intriguing in that they’re both so ordinary on the surface, boring even, which renders the serial killings so much more jarring and interesting than might be the case if there were any indicators of such atrocities lurking within. This melding of the ordinary and grotesque is some feat on the part of director Wheatley, and the key to the movie’s strangeness and singularity.
Chris looks like yer average bloke, his fuzzy reddish beard being his only distinctive feature. Tina’s appearance, too, is unremarkable, as are her main interests – knitting and dogs. There’s not much wit in their dialogue, and their new relationship is pretty hum-drum – that is, apart from Chris’s serial killings! Graphic blood-letting notwithstanding, the most shocking aspect to his murders is Tina’s reaction. She appears bemused initially, rather than horrified, and soon accommodates her new partner’s appalling actions without so much as a tch tch. Further, she takes to rationalising on his behalf, pointing out to him that in ending people’s lives prematurely he is lessening their carbon footprints!
There is no clear pattern behind Chris’s killings. His first murder of the trip – of a litterbug who refuses to pick up his discarded icecream wrapper – suggests that he may be an obsessed and maniacally fanatical environmentalist, but any such notions are dispelled when he bludgeons to death a ranger who books Tina for not picking up her pooch’s poop during a ramble through the countryside. His dispensing of a travel writer appears to be a matter of jealousy. So, let’s just go for the broad and obvious and say he’s a controlling, obsessive freak with a severe anger management problem.
As for Tina…well, who knows? The easy theory – that she’s a hopeless dependent so desperate to keep her man that she’ll go along with anything – collapses as
she shows up as ever more assertive, and indeed prepared to match Chris at his own grisly game.
Look, to be honest, this is not my thang. I’m sick to the gills of graphic screen violence and serial killer characters, even in the cause of black comedy. However, this duo resists analysis, and that’s unusual. So too is the surreal tone to the film, that is tilted slightly – tantalisingly – askew of realism, landing you in a bemusing cinematic twilight zone that is quite unique. Creating an almost indefinably unhinged world unlike any other is a formidable accomplishment on the part of the filmmakers, and is the redeeming quality of the movie.
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