Pa­gan prom­ise

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film reviews -

Tides are ris­ing. Cities are col­laps­ing. It’s time to go back to the old re­li­gion. Hoist the Wicker Man. That might sound hys­ter­i­cal but, on the ev­i­dence of Ben Wheat­ley’s re­cent, su­perb Kill List and this in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise in genre mis­di­rec­tion, British film-mak­ers are get­ting down with the scarier side of pa­gan­ism.

Alas­tair Sid­dons’s creepy, low-key drama is not in the same league as Wheat­ley’s film, but it finds in­ter­est­ing ways of com­bin­ing ap­par­ently in­com­pat­i­ble sub­jects. Like this week’s Ber­be­rian Sound Stu­dio, the film looks and smells a lit­tle bit like a hor­ror film. How­ever, a close ex­am­i­na­tion of the plot sug­gests it might be some­thing else en­tirely.

Jes­sica Bar­den (ex- Coro­na­tion Street) is ex­cel­lent as Marie, a young girl liv­ing un­hap­pily with her mother in a run­down house on the out­skirts of Bris­tol. Life turns even more mis­er­able when a boy dies while she is baby-sit­ting at the house of a lo­cal odd­ball named, tellingly, Filthy (the im­pres­sively gruff Tony Curran). Marie be­gins to sus­pect that some sin­is­ter force is lurk­ing within the hill that over­shad­ows her es­tate. She makes a sort of pa­gan shrine in a breeze­block shel­ter, scat­ters it with fetishes and writes cryp­tic mes­sages on the wall.

As events un­fold, the en­tire lo­cale slumps in­tomad­ness. Marie’s mum (Lyn­d­sey Mar­shal) be­gins whack­ing lumps out of the ban­nis­ter. Filthy al­lows be­reave­ment to cloud his judg­ment. Marie sees malev­o­lent lights on the side of the hill.

The film does a very fine job of com­bin­ing rough nat­u­ral­ism with ap­par­ent su­per­nat­u­ral shocks; Neus Ollé-Soronel­las’s lens work is ap­po­sitely gloomy; Bar­den is im­pres­sively frag­ile. But you sus­pect there is no sat­is­fac­tory way to con­sol­i­date the var­i­ous com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives.

Sure enough, the end turns out to be overly neat, slightly de­flat­ing and more than a lit­tle fa­mil­iar. Rats: a lit­tle more in­ven­tion and Sid­dons might have cre­ated a cult smash. In­stead, we’re left us­ing words like “prom­ise” and “po­ten­tial” but we’re jon­s­ing to see the di­rec­tor’s sopho­more ef­fort.

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