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January 14, 2014

Filth

(2013 Director: Jon S. Baird)

It's often all too easy to get yourself into a bit of a movie rut, particularly with the ever-fickle horror genre where trends reign supreme. You end up stuck watching the same films that bear slightly different titles but all feature creepy kids, shaky cameras and terrible CGI. It gets tiring, and the only way out is to happen across a little gem that shakes you out of the slump and reminds you what real horror looks like. Otherwise you'll be destined to stumble along until the trickle of films you were clinging to finally fades away like a child's footprints in the snow. Then you freeze to death. If only there was a film I could parallel that analogy to...
Obligatory semi-nudity; always a must-have.
My discovery of the year appeared in the most unlikely of places: an afternoon showing of Jon S. Baird's controversial adaptation of Irvine Welsh's (the author of Trainspotting, the film that made Danny Boyle famous) vile tale of moral and physical corruption, Filth, in a little independent cinema next to my flat in Dundee. Although billed as a comedy crime-drama the film regularly takes a plunge into horror's pool, and with spectacular results.
To give a brief outline of the plot (which is a little dense for a curt 90 minute run-time), James McAvoy plays Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, a crooked copper who sees the possibility of promotion and, by extension, a chance to rekindle his rather unorthodox relationship with his wife when he's assigned to the case of a murdered Japanese student. Alongside the main plot, Robertson also partakes in a series of increasingly cruel "games" with his work colleagues in order to gain the upper hand over them for the upcoming promotion and everything is sewed together nicely by plenty of drug use and a series of increasingly sporadic and nightmarish hallucinations.

Look at him, he's such a cheeky wee scamp.
The first half of the film is hilarious; vile and uncomfortable, but hilarious. If you're not well versed in the Scottish dialect it might be a wise move to get the subtitles on to help you penetrate the wall of profanity and slang that makes up the commendably slick, cynical script; poking fun at everything from police corruption (obviously), tourism and our home country of Scotland to prostitution, bigotry and secret societies. James McAvoy's sharp-witted, sick sleazeball of assonance (which rightfully won him the Best Actor British Independent Film Award) acts as an anchor on which the rest of the superb cast (of which there are particularly memorable performances by Eddie Marsan and Jim Broadbent) float and are inevitably dragged down with him into a sordid pit of sex, drugs and...what's the word? Dirt? Muck?
Lesson number one, kids: don't have a bad trip.

This is where we come in, horror fans, because as Bruce's world spirals out of control into a drug-fuelled hallucinogenic mess, shit starts to get real. Or, as the case may be here, unreal. Unbridled, visceral surrealism is almost exclusively the domain of horror films (look at Hellraiser, The Beyond and Eraserhead) thanks to over-the-top weird generally not being considered an enjoyable experience, but Filth descends very abruptly into an extremely unpleasant wreck of schizophrenic mayhem that wouldn't feel out of place next to a gentleman being given a blowjob by someone in a bear suit. Nope. Still can't think a movie with something like that in it.

Then there's the score, arranged by Clint Mansell, which melds together haunting orchestral pieces with chirpy pop music to add to the already manic atmosphere of the film, bringing to mind the same sort of terrifyingly unhinged carnage as the likes of Funny Games. The music hops up and down in time with the tone of the film, knowing exactly when it's needed and when to let the scenes speak for themselves. Which they do, very loudly and with gorgeously over the top set design, jump scares and atmospheric lighting to both enthral and disturb us, the unsuspecting audience.
A special shout-out to the atmospheric use of lighting, particularly in later
scenes when the tone turns much darker.
Everything is made all the more disturbing by how far distanced from its comedy beginnings the film takes itself; the halfway mark pulling the rug out from under your feet and replacing relatively harmless shenanigans with the all too real and brutal repercussions of one's past and present actions. The comically evil Bruce gives way to a paranoid man plagued by his own mind and all of a sudden you start to feel for the guy that you'd resigned yourself to assuming was a complete and utter tosser. McAvoy, as I can't mention enough, nails his role and successfully builds Bruce into a complex and sympathetic character who might just have a bit of good left in there somewhere, but all too late, because the slope is ever so slippery and the only way to go now is down. Filth never relents.
Not a spoiler, promise; this is in the advert too.
The second act blasts ahead with a sensory overload of cruelty, violence, and expert cinematography and editing that accumulates into some of the most difficult to watch scenes that I've seen for a long time; and it doesn't stop. To keep the experience as unsullied as possible for your viewing pleasure I won't go into details, but I walked out of the cinema drained and damaged. I needed a cup of tea and a good long lie down. Hell, I needed three months of recuperation before I could even think about reviewing this piece of absolute mental and physical destruction.

It's not scary by conventional standards, but like any good horror film it gets to you. It burrows under your skin and feeds off of you like a tapeworm. Exceptional acting, dark humour, fragmented editing and superb set design make for a gruelling cinematic experience; it's as much a feat of emotional endurance as it is a puerile satire. So if you want try something a little different to keep you up at night, give Filth a go. Same rules apply.

Filth is out on DVD in the UK on 10th February and is hopefully due for release in North America this spring.

1 comment:

KZ said...

I like how James McAvoy has improved his acting skills since he graced us with a superb performance in X-Men.
I will surely watch this movie, and we'll see how he does on horror movie.