dir-scr Philip Ridley
prd Pippa Cross, Richard Raymond
with Jim Sturgess, Clémence Poésy, Noel Clarke, Luke Treadaway, Ruth Sheen, Justin Salinger, Eddie Marsan, Nikita Mistry, Joseph Mawle, John MacMillan, Jack Gordon, Timothy Spall
release UK 31.Aug.09 frightfest
09/UK 1h45~
Lynchian nightmare: Sturgess

poesy clarke marsan
fright fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Heartless Layered and dense, there's clearly a lot going on in this dark thriller, although it's not easy to figure out what that might be. It's hypnotically perplexing, like a David Lynch movie without the emotional resonance.

Jamie (Sturgess) is a shy photographer who avoids contact with people because of the large birthmark on his face. Working with his brother (Salinger) and nephew (Treadaway), he longs for a normal life. Then a series of events propels him into a nightmarish new reality in which a demon-like man (Mawle), his young assistant (Mistry) and their intense weapons expert (Marsan) offer him freedom from his scars in exchange for an act of chaos. He also falls in love with a girl (Poesy) who seems too good to be true.

From the very start, the film's fairytale vibe has strong echoes of both Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera. Ridley gives this film a dense, moody texture that keeps us interested, even as we begin to wonder what's actually happening. There are lots of hints along the way that would most likely become clearer with subsequent viewings, and it's obvious that some of what happens is inside Jamie's mind. But not all of it.

And while the film touches on serious themes about physical appearance and the fragility of human life, the story is just too heavy-handed. Death is over-present in Jamie's life; his father (Spall in flashbacks) died when he was a boy, and there's much worse to come. There are moments of real resonance along the way, but the film loses us by lurching from dark melodrama to light romance to brutal horror and back. Again and again.

That said, Sturgess delivers a remarkably steady performance, creating a character we do care about, even though we're never quite sure what's real and what's in his mind. The whole cast is effective, while Marsan gives the standout performance, a kinetic turn that fuels the film's only truly scary scene. Everything else feels a little indulgent and repetitive, with jolts coming mainly through film tricks, red herrings or extreme gore. It's the kind of film that generates a dedicated cult audience, but I'd rather not watch it again.

cert 18 themes, language, strong violence 24.Aug.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall