11 August 2010

Funny Bones- SKELETONS Review

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

You may currently be gesticulating at The Last Airbender and The Sorcerer's Apprentice, both of which begin screening in advance at cinemas nationwide today, with the urgency of a multiplex-lovin' chimp who happens to read this blog. But yesterday I got in a trip to the Tyneside Cinema, so frankly I'd rather talk about one of the films I saw there- Skeletons.

Davis and Bennett are exorcists, of a sort. Their clientele are engaged couples and the like, and the pair are concerned to exhuming nasty secrets and memories before people commit their lives to each other. It's not a nice business, but they're good at their jobs, and their boss, named only as the Colonel, has an appointment that might properly announce them within the apparently lucrative world of clearing skeletons out of closets.

Skeletons is one of three films I was unfortunate enough to miss on my recent trip to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it won the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Film, and seeking it out thereafter was definitely the right choice. If the idea of traversing people's innermost secrets and memories chimes with recent output, it's because Inception still looms large in UK cinemas. This marvellous British effort is a bit like that film, but with more of a sense of humour and less spectacle.

If Christopher Nolan's dream-faring blockbuster represented something of an odyssey, this is more of an oddity. It's the unusual little touches that make it seem so fresh and keep you watching. For instance, in trekking around middle England attending to peoples' buried traumas and secrets, there's no Skeleton-mobile. No Mystery Machine. No ECTO-1. They just walk. It lends itself immeasurably to the feeling of isolation in our protagonists' line of work that Davis and Bennett appear to walk from assignment to assignment, aside from one scene on a train as the "big job" kicks off.

In the lead roles, Ed Gaughan and Andrew Buckley make a fine double act. Gaughan's Davis is addicted to visiting one memory from his past in much the same way as a certain Cobb dallies with his deceased wife a few auditoriums down from wherever Skeletons is screening, and Buckley gives a very fine performance as his big-hearted colleague, struggling more with the clients' well-being than with the unsociable life he has to deal with because of his work.

Best of all though is Tuppence Middleton as the quiet-going-on-soft-spoken young woman who might hold the truth behind the "big job". I'd entirely forgotten about her after enjoying her performance in Tormented last summer, and she give a far more auspicious performance here, and one which I hope will get her noticed and cast in more projects. Jason Isaacs also makes a typically scene-stealing appearance as the mustachioed Colonel, driving his discordant duo to work harder and hinting at a broader industry of skeleton-outers happening off-screen.

It's definitely unfair to compare it to Inception, but I do mean it as a compliment. In Skeletons, writer and director Nick Whitfield has whipped up a terrific supernatural drama with as much ambition and nowhere near the budget. To pick a hole, it doesn't seem to have as much running time as it does ideas, which means the story becomes a little more dislocated towards the end. There's really little else to fault- who knew a light science fiction film could be this smart and inventive without a single bit of CGI?

It's leisurely paced and it was never really going to pack out multiplexes, but like all the best under-the-radar British gems, it's well worth delving into the closet of British cinema distribution Skeletons has sadly been buried within. It gets the maximum entertainment value out of an apparently modest effort, by utilising its great performers and quietly brilliant script. Oh, and Jason Isaacs' moustache.

Skeletons is now playing in selected cinemas across the UK.
If and when you see Skeletons, why not leave a comment on the film and/or my review? What do you mean Andrew Buckley reminds you of an older, chubbier version of someone? I haven't the foggiest who you could mean...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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