Sunday, 22 January 2012

'Black Pond' review:

An eye-catching debut from co-directors Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe, 'Black Pond' tells the story of a middle class family who are accused of murder after a disheveled stranger comes to dinner and asks them to bury him in the woods. We don't see very much of this event enacted, with most of the drama being split between time before and after Blake (Colin Hurley) dies. Mockumentary style interviews with members of the Thompson family talk us through the aftermath, whilst more straight forward drama sees us through the days prior. There is also an imaginatively shot dream sequence, some primitive but effective animation and a sub-plot involving a friend of the family, Tim (played by Sharpe), undergoing very odd psychological analysis under the care of comedian Simon Amstell.

If this sounds like a bit of an uneven mish-mash of styles, it's because it is - though never less than entertaining and interesting. These different strands don't gel smoothly and the tone is inconsistent, though each isolated sequence is shot with an ambition that belies the film's patently low budget. What binds it together is the entirely consistent and rigorously explored theme, with all the stories - of the Thompson family, Tim and Blake - about the tragic impermanence of life and love. A theme which is developed with subtle humour, brilliantly observed depictions of human behaviour (in particular, middle class family dysfunction) and in a way which is genuinely heartfelt.

Among a uniformly impressive cast, former 'The Thick of It' star Chris Langham, unseen on our screens for several years due to a damaging and widely reported court case, is especially stunning as the father. It's great to have him back. As with his under-siege government minister on that TV political satire, he plays a good-natured blunderer - a sweet man whose shortcomings (in this case his inability to express love to anyone other than the family dog) play as tragic. You get the sense he is always trying his best and repressing any negative feeling at his own expense. Both characters struggle vainly to maintain a sense of order and propriety. Both characters are also very funny, with Langham a master of comic timing who can be relied upon to make the smallest moments count.

Yet the film's emotional centre is arguably represented by Colin Hurley, whose shambling, detached, emotionally distant character is portrayed with the utmost sensitivity. He's slightly weird without ever being dangerous, with Hurley never overplaying the crazy or maudlin aspects of Blake. It's a rounded, sincere and gimmick-free performance worthy of accolades.

Like Ben Wheatley's unsung gem 'Down Terrace', 'Black Pond' suggests the emergence of some exciting talents whose next moves will surely be watched with increased interest.

'Black Pond' is rated '15' by the BBFC. Though given a limited release in November, it's still playing one-off shows around the country.

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