This is a harrowing and well-shot modern British thriller/horror, where a couple spending a weekend at an abandoned quarry fall into conflict with a group of young local hoodies. It preys on our fear of what the press like to call our “feral youth”, and is fairly unrelentingly dark and depressing. It’s a bit of a British “Deliverance” for our age, but I’m not sure they’d put that on the poster.
Steve (Michael Fassbender) and Jenny (Kelly Reilly) are likeable enough – although you know it’s not going to go smoothly for them when we see that Steve plans to propose to Jenny and keeps taking the ring out to look at it. His heady dreams of romance must be quashed, by the laws of all things horror.
It starts out depressingly realistic, with the couple’s relaxing on the beach ruined by a bunch of noisy kids bringing a Rottweiler and stereo to the beach. It creates the unease that one would feel when faced with a bunch of kids that aren’t currently doing anything wrong. Is the unease the fault of the kids, or the result of Steve and Jenny’s own prejudices? (Obviously the viewer’s prejudices are somewhat aided by having read the back of the DVD!) Steve wants to tell them to turn the radio down, and Jenny wants to go and find another part of the lake. The two keep their respective approaches to the problem throughout the escalating conflict, and the viewer is left to reflect on whether Jenny’s approach would have avoided the crisis that follows, or whether the kids, out of sheer boredom and bravado, would have attempted to get involved anyway.
The group of kids have their own politics – they’re not just a faceless gang of equally nasty hoodies. The leader is the catalyst for most of what happens, and, horribly, we can see other, possibly decent kids, being dragged down to the level of thug for fear of being singled out, or being bullied themselves. This is an interesting and intelligent take on gang violence, something more serious films focus on, but which thrillers (which often don’t have the time or inclination to highlight the gradients between outright good and outright evil) rarely do. The leader of the gang, Brett (Jack O’Connell) rules the gang by charisma and intimidation. If you flinch from cruelty, then you are weak and might be next to be humiliated and punished. In one particularly harrowing scene, it’s obvious how unenthusiastic most of the gang are, as things get out of control, but they still all contribute regardless.
It’s well shot, and very well acted. My sympathies for the characters, however, takes a real hit, when they fall into the trap that a lot of horror and thriller films fall into. To fully go along with these films, we need the characters to act as we would in the same situation. If they exacerbate the situation unnecessarily too many times, or fail to do something that would clearly help, then we get fed up with them, and, in my case (maybe I’m a hoodie in denial), resign them to their fate and wish the baddies would get on with it.
***SOME SPOILERS, BUT NOT MASSIVE FILM SPOILERS***
In one example, Steve and Jenny see a load of bikes outside a house, and Steve, still smarting from a prank played on them by the kids, decides to remonstrate with the parents. He goes to the door and, after barely a cursory knock, finding the side door open, walks into the house. He just brazenly walks in, through the kitchen, through the living room, into the hall, occasionally saying “Hello?” I just have no idea what his character is doing – regardless of whether the house is owned by psychos or ordinary people. I just wouldn’t walk into someone’s house unannounced. Absolutely mental. Obviously it’s to create a tense scene where the homeowner returns, and Steve panics, and tries to find a way out without alerting them. But if he feels the need to find a way out, then surely he is in the wrong, and that would have occurred to him before the homeowner returns!
There is another scene that has a massively illogical sequence of events. The kids have stolen their car, and Steve is challenging them to get the keys back. A scuffle breaks out, where a knife is produced, and it ends up with Steve accidentally stabbing the dog. They all stop fighting and stand around looking at the dog, as you do when someone’s just tried to stab you. Steve even apologises about the dog, and looks like he’s about to cry, rather than going “WTF! You pulled a knife on me, you fucking maniac!” The kid then gives Steve his keys back. Erm, what? They go, and then the kids realise they actually don’t want to give the keys back, and instead want revenge. But hey, cliché alert, the car is STUCK IN THE MUD, and they sit there revving the engine like crazy with no effect. And yet, just when all hope is lost, Steve does the great thing of SHOUTING and revving the engine. The shouting demonstrates just how much harder he is pressing his foot down on the accelerator than he was earlier, and so the car suddenly works and can drive OK now, so a car previously completely stuck in the mud, is suddenly freed due to him accelerating faster than he was a minute before.
***END OF SPOILER SECTION***
These things are obvious tricks used by the filmmakers. They want the scenarios they have envisioned as being scary, and so the characters do whatever actions are needed to make this happen; not, as should surely happen, the characters follow their instincts, and the situations appear as a natural result of that.
For these films to work, the characters need to be extensions of ourselves. We need to feel represented on the screen, so that when they are terrorised by locals, WE are terrorised by locals. If we don’t feel represented, we start to resent the stupid actions of the protagonist. This is what happens in a lot of sub-standard horror, and this is what happens here. It’s a fatal wound that undoes most of the good work done by the rest of the film. While the gang stay almost within the realms of believability, and it raises scenarios demonstrating how kids can go wild with bad or non-existent parenting, and encompasses many of our fears of being “not from ‘round ‘ere”, the film cannot get over the predictability of some of the set pieces, and the improbable and unbelievable straying from what any sane human would do in certain situations, merely to get to the next set piece.