DIRECTOR John Shackleton WRITER John Shackleton; Alex Chandon; Ross Jameson STARS Julie Graham; Joseph Beattie; Christopher Adamson SCREENING Today at 13.15
REVIEW Kevan Farrow
In a blustery and wintery Brighton, call girl Blue’s newest client is Bill, whose residence she is sent to one night. Bill’s flat is more or less empty save for a few worn antiques, including a mutoscope, a Victorian end-of-the-pier machine offering punters a flickery, sepia peep show. Invited to view the film, Blue watches a man with a bag over his head (the disguise not unlike Jason’s in Friday the 13th Part 2) dancing with two girls. About to leave Bill’s, Blue swears she sees the man behind the large hallway mirror, behind which the two discover a hidden room, untouched for years. The room, Blue is told, was a ‘sleeping room’, which brothels would have to allow the girls to rest between clients.
As she researches the building’s history, Blue uncovers stories of the twisted psychopath pimp ‘Frisky’ Fiskin, who killed a number of his girls, making mutoscope films of the murders. It seems ever more likely that previous residents may still inhabit the sleeping room, and whatever does lie within seems to have a nasty effect on anyone who spends time in the house.
With a kitchen sink feel, the film draws comparisons to Brighton Rock and David Leland’s Wish You Were Here. The Brighton presented here though, is a far more sinister one, where old scars run deep. Director John Shackleton gives the town its own life force, with flocks of gulls and the towering Ferris wheel always looking down, always watching. The film is bookended with shots of waves battering the rusted piers, and there is a sense of the town remembering its past, and dominating the minds of its residents. Shackleton handles the ghosts particularly well, refusing to lessen their impact through over-exposure, a trap all too commonly fallen into by more clumsy horrors.
What really shines through is the sheer pace and bare-boned narrative efficiency, which represents both the film’s most idiosyncratic strength and its deepest flaw. While this breakneck pace never allows the viewer’s attention to meander from the plot’s unstoppable trajectory, it also leaves certain story elements somewhat underdeveloped. This race to the finish also means that the confounding and ambitious ending comes across as a little half-baked. What it does pack into its lean, 75-minute running time though, is effectively creepy and satisfyingly lensed, and the shocks are permeated with a melancholy calm, mirrored in the constant lapping of the sea, which gives the whole film an unsettling sense of stillness, even as it rushes by.