Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet
Directed by Simeon Halligan
Not a Number / Tin Hat Productions / Blue Diamond Pictures
96 minutes, 2017 / 2018
Manchester, England, England / Across the Atlantic Sea… It’s a town known for, among other things, melancholia, producing such music as the Smiths and Joy Division / New Order (none of whom show up in the soundtrack, thankfully). Not exactly a cheery lot. So it makes sense that it would be the locale for a somber film of blood, guts and… well, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
|Elliot James Langridge|
Based on the novel by Stephen McGeagh, we are introduced to slacker Michael (Elliot James Langridge) who meets Lee (Jessica Barden, the big name in the cast due to her work on the 2017 Brit series “The End of the F***ing World”) on the way to an employment agency. Late at underdressed in a gray hoodie, he’s a bit seedy, and she’s excitable, in a way reminiscent of the Melanie Griffith character in Something Wild (1986), without the extreme and exaggerated danger level, though she seems more stable as time goes on. Before the scene is over and less than 10 minutes into the film, she’s talked her way into moving in with him and his toe-jam pickin’ roommate, Dig (Andrew Ellis); think of the Rhys Ifans character from Nodding Hill (1999), though without the charm. Personally, I would have asked for some ID to see her age; Barden is mid-‘20s, but can easily pass for close to underage, wildish or not. Why take the chance, eh? Anyway, I digress…
To thank him for the arrangement, Lee gets him a job at her Uncle Ian’s (William Ash) – err – massage parlour working the door security. It isn’t long before he discovers the big secret of the place, though it isn’t that hard to figure out, even if you just watch the trailer or see the attached publicity photos. It’s also not a new theme these days, with the likes of the “Santa Clarita Diet” (2017-ongoing) and especially Raw (2016).
The film builds nicely, one foot in front of the other, as we delve ever deeper into Michael’s old (through dreams and flashback) and new life. Lee hints early on that she knows that he’s ”different,” and being a genre film, you know something wicked this way comes in wrappings of a woman with a child-like face. A similar technique is used in real life to drag life stragglers into cults, and this one is a doozy.
There is a bit of competition hinted at between Lee and one of the women at the parlor, the very hot Alex (Roxanne Pallett, sporting a very ‘60s Carnaby Street vibe; think Julie Christie), who is somewhat the antithesis of Lee (cute-sexy vs. hooker-sexy). Also caught up in the whole thing is Michael’s confused and OCD sister with some PSTD issues, Mand (cute Sally Carman, currently on “Coronation Street”).
Nearly everything the audience learns about events is parallel to when Michael becomes aware. This is a nice touch, as is the predictability factor, which is a mixed bag. For example, there is one death that is expected, some unexpected, and honestly one I thought I saw coming that didn’t happen (no spoiler alerts).
The cast is certainly not acting newbies, all having long histories in British productions, especially telly series. Most have been in similar shows from time to time, and I’m going to assume that many of them know each other from this work, as the British market – especially up north in Manchester – is probably limited to some extent. What I’m trying to say, is that the cast is stellar, playing nuanced performances that give credibility to the characters, no matter how outlandish the activities involved.
The film also looks stunning. Camera work, lighting, and cinematographic framing are offset by a somewhat languid editing that draws the viewer in, rather than lingering too long to the point of distraction. It also reminds me a bit of Long Night in a Dead City, which was filmed around the same time in New England. Know that the accents here are thick as fleas and twice as chewy.
On some level this can be considered an organized crime genre, but there is way too much of body parts and moistness for this to be just your average crime caper. Also, it’s too controlled to be considered a slasher film, either. But know there is a nice body count, and a lot of body jus.
The ending is left wide open, I suppose for the possibility of a sequel, which I will also gladly eat up. The average film viewer may not want to have a meal before watching this, but if you’re a genre junkie like me, you’ll relish this over some White Castle (what’s the British equivalent?) and a cuppa… red wine.