R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Hadi Hajaig
with Nick Moran, Georgina Rylance, David Soul, Ralph Brown, Hannah Watkins, David Papava, Tony Wadham, John Webber, Robin Hellier, Mark Gilvary, Steven Atholl, Jennifer Lim
release UK 10.Nov.06
06/UK 1h33

Nice light-box: Rylance and Moran

moran soul

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Puritan Just like an M Night Shyamalan movie, this East London thriller is moody and dark, building its cagey, twisty plot slowly and steadily. But it's also contrived, self-indulgent and far too pleased with itself.

Simon Puritan (Moran) can talk to the dead, but as he helps clients sort out their pasts, he's haunted by his own. Enter Ann (Rylance), who asks him to contact her dead sister. And strange things start happening, including a spark of attraction and the appearance of a shadowy, deformed man who knows far too much about Ann--and Simon. He keeps saying things like, "You're in a lot of danger and I'm the only one who can help." Meanwhile, Ann's self-help guru husband (Soul) has a violent streak that might get out of control.

Writer-director Hajaig builds a strong atmosphere, drenching every scene in red light and deep shadows and concentrating on the emotions of the characters. Then he starts layering in the plot twists, most of which aren't remotely surprising (including the major climactic discovery). He's combining a ghost story with a time travel thriller and a Body Heat-style noir mystery, and these elements merge cleverly to keep us watching.

So it's a pity there's so little energy, and that the characters are all so deliberate and mopey that we don't really care about them--or believe anything they say. Moran and Rylance develop an impulsive chemistry that never quite pays off, mainly because they're so relentlessly subdued. Moran looks like he's on the verge of tears all the time--Simon comes across as a gullible sap. Soul has a lot more steely energy, especially when he addresses a hall of followers with true evangelical zeal.

Hajaig brings in several intriguing plot strands and themes, including references to East London folklore like Jack the Ripper, Aleister Crowley and a legendary rock star murder. But even these elements feel strained and under-developed. Instead of developing this further, he wallows in the mundane romance, which at least does contain the film's one genuine surprise. This is a stylish and entrancing film, but its pretentious tone makes it feel like a bit of a slog as well.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 10.Aug.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall