Day 4 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the films on show bring out the acting big guns whilst our man on location, Lewis Camley, brings out the puns.
The intensity of the EIFF programme, with as many as 20 press screenings taking place per day (and only until 6pm), prevents much in the way of weekend excesses, and so Sunday morning’s movies had to provide all the drink and demons, personal or otherwise.
Beginning early with ‘California Solo’, the day offered up, to my happy surprise, some of the best films yet at the festival. Coming from director/screenwriter Marshall Lewy, ‘California Solo’ stars Robert Carlyle as Lachlan MacAldonich (so named to annoy American policemen, it seems); a washed-up, lonely former Britpop icon, now hiding from his past and his family on a Californian farm, washing away the days with bourbon. He appears to enjoy his new life and work, and does have a few friends, not least the beautiful young Beau (Alexia Rasmussen) with whom he enjoys a well-worked ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romance. But crucially, Lachlan is struggling to either accept his past fame and guilt, or finally reject them, and it is this limbo which turns a small drinking problem in to a DUI offence and the increasing threat of deportation back to Britain.
The tensions of love and family are at the root of the film, given Lachlan’s sense of culpability in the early death of his brother which ended both their careers and left him an outcast in America, as well as his subsequent attempts to have an ex-wife and estranged child lie for him in his fight to remain in the States. While there is a lot of trauma and fury here, the film manages to maintain some humour and lightness, especially when Lachlan reflects on his old life, and in his almost-teenage attempts to woo the much younger bohemian Beau. The soundtrack is, unsurprisingly, spot on, with a clever blend of British classics and new music written for The Cranks (Lachlan’s band), while his podcast Flame-Out, detailing the tragic lives and untimely deaths of great musicians, offers up songs from Marc Bolan to Mozart.
This role was apparently written specifically for Carlyle – irritatingly since his whole frame of reference, musically and historically, focuses on England, and thus his Scottish nationality serves perhaps only to underscore his alcoholism. But he plays it with passion and tenderness; his ability to swing from quiet emotion to spitting anger always wonderful to behold, marking it as one of his best performances to date. The films ends bravely, reinforcing the integrity of the theme and tone meticulously established and securing Lachlan as both tragic and redeemed, the states he wrestles with throughout the narrative.
‘Grabbers’ too reflects the destructive power of alcohol, in a very different way indeed. This Irish comic-horror plays on the tropes of the B-movie to create a ludicrous, hilarious and at times quite jumpy alien invasion film, with a bright and boozy heart. Erin Island and its small, insulated community is unknowingly under attack from a growing family of blood-sucking, tentacled space creatures. Their only defence comes from the weary, drunken Garda (police) O’Shea (Richard Coyle), and his new workaholic colleague Nolan (Ruth Bradley). Their slowly blossoming romantic connection is a fairly obvious and conventional sub-plot, but one that is executed well by the pair; their fundamental character differences at first creating tension, to be replaced with believable affection. Along with Russell Tovey (Being Human, Him & Her), they comprise a fantastic leading cast, which is well backed by lesser-known Irish actors playing the villagers who eventually come to aid the fight.
Building slowly with steady revelations of the monsters’ killings and their biology – needing water and healthy blood to survive – a furious end section begins hilariously with the declaration of a village-wide lock-in. This certainly echoes ‘Shaun of the Dead’, with the pub hide-out set upon by the aliens to both shocking and genuinely funny ends. With their best weapon being dangerous blood-alcohol levels, everyone, including the never-before drunk Nolan, hits the sauce – all except O’Shea. With roles reversed, their connection is strengthened, while we get to see a much more complex character emerge in his position of total responsibility. The action reaches anarchic pace, and the CGI remains at a surprisingly excellent level, better even than some much more expensive Hollywood offerings. This meeting of believable characters with well-realised monsters, alongside a funny script and perfectly paced action renders Jon Wright’s ‘Grabbers’ as an honestly daft horror flick with bags of quality. It does not pretend to be a serious thriller, nor does it sacrifice all of the fear-factor for jokes; achieving the perfect blend needed for a modern take on the B-movie. This will certainly become a cult classic like Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s various offerings, if it can ‘Grab’ (ouch – ed.) enough public notice.
Week 2 begins with a look at four new films, including a tightly-constructed German family drama, a madcap American comment on modern culture which fell a little short and a British social drama which suffers from a lack of originality and an aggravating approach to the lives of struggling children. Stay tuned!