There has a been a small rise in films aimed at the “grey pound” in the last few years, and they’re normally pretty damn good (Exotic Marigold Hotel, for example, was delightful), but they never change the world. I mean, the scripts are nearly always great, but they won’t be your favourite films. On the one hand, it’s nice to see films which aren’t aimed at the 18-25 male demographic where they spend millions on special effects but piece the script together using random words cut from cereal boxes. But I do fear this could lead to “old people” being a genre, so there is the possibility that it could actually pigeonhole an entire generation, so the only films starring people over the age of 50 will be these kinds of films. There is also the risk that as they become more popular, the scripts become less refined, and you have the danger of them just becoming “old people are people too” and being really condescending. It’s one of the great things about this film actually, they’re not written as old people, they’re written as people who have lived a while. There is a difference: if you write a character as elderly, you give them only elderly characteristics, if you write them as someone who has lived, you give them entire backstories full of drunken escapades in their youth. There is a tendency to write characters entirely based on who they are now, and forget how they must have been to lead to this point, and this film should be commended for doing that. It’s a masterclass of character-work, even the way the sets are designed. Celia Imrie’s character has a flat which has so much detail to it it’s almost a character itself.
This is not the greatest film I’ve seen, but it’s enjoyable. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a piece of toast (I compare films to food way more than most people do, I should look into that). By that, I mean that no matter how perfectly it does what it needs to, it will never be your favourite. It sticks to a formula, and as such is kind of restrained by that. You can guess almost every single plot point in this film from the opening 10 minutes. It won’t surprise you at all. But it doesn’t really need to, this is not a film to analyse and pore over, it’s a film to sit and distract yourself, and it does that well. The dialogue is razor sharp, the characters are loveable (and fully fleshed out, even the background ones have minor details to them which help you know them), and it will make you smile. The whole thing is just massively endearing and charming and, I don’t know, warm I guess is the word I’m looking for. You know how certain films have colours attached to them? I’d say this one is orangey red. It’s just comforting and lovely, the kind of film the whole family gathers and watches on Christmas Day, in that post-dinner haze where you’re all too exhausted to move, and someone inevitably falls asleep in the sofa with their Christmas hat still on. It’s incredibly BBC, and I mean that as positive and a negative.
So yeah don’t go out of your way to watch this, but if (actually, when) it comes on iPlayer, watch it immediately. You won’t regret it, plus, you get to see Celia Imrie and Timothy Spall get high, and you won’t get that in Avengers (if that turns out to be wrong, I’ll be amazed).
Some films you see them and you have an automatic visual reaction, for example when I saw Gone Girl for the first time, after the film ended there was spontaneous applause (something I’ve only ever seen for about 4 other films), but occasionally the most interesting part is when nobody does anything. Sometimes this is bad, it can indicate disappointment or a feeling of being short changed, you have a room full of people sitting there thinking “was that it? That was so boring it almost sent me to sleep”, but sometimes the silence says more than any other reaction possibly could. For example when I saw Buried at cinema in Portsmouth, it ended and the reaction was complete silence, everyone was too depressed to move, the silence lasted for at least 20 seconds (which doesn’t seem long, but sit there and time it, it’s longer than you think) until it was broken by somebody saying “I think I need to self-harm now”. That was pretty much the reaction to this, just a sense of unease among everyone in the cinema, when we left there was a feeling like we’d all just gone through a shared trauma. Yet it was by no means a horrible film, there was beauty in the ugliness. The beauty of the way shots were composed meant the ugliness was more striking. Haven’t seen a film like this since Nocturnal Animals, and even that wasn’t as unrelenting as this was. This film starts off making you feel slightly uncomfortable and uneasy, and never gives you pause throughout the (some would say “slightly excessive) 146 minute runtime.
Oh yeah, I suppose I should mention that, this film is very very long, and I feel it doesn’t really need to be. There are moments where characters do things which they should have done earlier (for example, the main character is constantly woken by a knocking noise, this happens throughout the film, yet he doesn’t investigate it until very late on in the film). There’s also scenes which are slightly repetitive, the film wants you to think something and doesn’t want to risk you not realising certain things. A lot of the supporting characters are also woefully underwritten, Celia Imrie’s character for example was interesting in what we saw, but we needed a bigger investment into her for certain things to have narrative weight. Not the only flaw in this film, in fact this film is deeply flawed in many areas, particularly in terms of pacing, yet (for me anyway) those flaws can be ignored because of how great the film is.
I can see a lot of people really hating this film, it’s an easy film to dislike, and not just “not my thing” dislike, more “I want to harm everybody involved in making this piece of shit” dislike, but I can also see people who like it really loving it. It’s divisive, like marmite, Batfleck, or Fantf4stic.
What this film does well though, it does very well. The aforementioned feeling of dread throughout is remarkable, it feels like the characters spend the entire film with a sword dangling over their heads, and you’re waiting for it to drop (yes, that is occasionally exactly as frustrating as that sounds). It could be argued that when it does drop it not only spends forever making it’s journey, but it also doesn’t seem to live up what it promises, it promises excalibur dropping and all you get is a sewing needle. Yet for me it worked, it won’t be for everybody but I kind of dug how they ended it.
The performances in this were also superb, I haven’t seen Chronicle, so all I know Dane DeHaan from is the woefully under appreciated Life After Beth, a film which he is good in, but the performance he gives is just kind of standard. He is amazing in his, you really feel his fear throughout the film, you feel his anger and frustration at what’s happening, if you don’t buy the characters reactions, the entire film crumbles as theres no jeopardy. Jason Isaacs is as good as you expect him to be, coming off as an English actor who was created by someone attempting to draw Jon Hamm from memory. Just realised he has never won a BAFTA, how is that possible? He’s amazing and obviously talented, it’s about time that was realised. The best performance in this film; Mia Goth. I’m not familiar anything she’s done before, was truly a revelation in this. The vulnerability of the character is shown very well in her performance, not just vocally but the way the character moves adds to the performance, you see her walking across a room and automatically feel fearful for her. Interested to see what she does next.
Is there an obvious improvement that could be made to this film? Only one I can think of is it could have been nicer. If there were more moments of joyful bliss and serenity then the underlying creepy nature would have more weight when it eventually emerges. It wouldn’t have taken long, just a few scenes of idyllic comfort at the building, make it seem more like a genuine place of joy. As it is, everything is so obviously creepy that the fact there’s an underlying creepiness isn’t really surprising. It would be like finding out “Dave The Axe Murderer” is a killer, you’d be like “well, yeah, kind of guessed that”.
Which brings me on to my next point: the marketing. There was nothing special about, and I feel that was a problem. Batman Vs. Superman did a lot wrong (that’s an understatement) but one thing I loved is that they tied an advert for an airline company into the advertising for the film, it was a unique way of marketing it and I kind of dug it. I’d have loved to have seen marketing materials not about the film, but about the wellness facility featured in the film. Just a short teaser about the facilities there, with a slight underlying creepiness implying the real intentions. Even the website for it is magnificently mediocre;
I mean, look at that, that doesn’t set you on edge, it doesn’t do anything emotionally to you. It’s dull. Nothing about it is unusual or unique. A massive disappointment. They had a perfect opportunity to have a really unique marketing campaign and they blew it. They should have a website for the facility, adverts for it etc, maybe youtube testimonials about how “there’s something in the water” which means you “never want to leave”. Maybe have an alternate reality game that allows you to delve into the mythos, maybe a quick 5 minute walking simulator released online I don’t know. I don’t care what you do, just DO SOMETHING!
So, in summary. Should you watch this film? I’d say yes. This is a film that deserves to be seen, there’s a chance you’ll hate it, but there’s a chance you’ll love it, but either way you’ll have strong reactions to it.
The two teeth-based scenes (not spoiling them here, but trust me they’re horrific).