Directed by: Nick Whitfield
Saturday, November 13th, 7:45 p.m.
Thalian Hall Main Stage
A high concept mindbender where specialists use some unconventional means to discover secrets probably make moviegoers think of the Hollywood blockbuster “Inception.” But that description also suits the UK independent film “Skeletons,” an excellent piece of high-concept brain-fuckery that ranks among the best films I’ve seen this year.
We are introduced to the wonderfully mismatched team of Simon (Will Amsdale) and Bennet (Andrew Buckley). Bennet is an enormous giant who lives at home with his mother. He is a lonely soul with a heart to match his massive frame. Simon is miniscule with a pencil-thin moustache and a Napolean complex. For a fee, they will exorcise the skeletons in a closet, probing into the past to find the deepest darkest secrets of their “clients.” Their world is a sort of surreal reality, every job taking place in the beautiful English countryside, each place accessible by an easy walk.
Through the use of some rather antiquated technology and a pair of magic stones, they can plumb the depths of anyone’s past: every sin, every aspect of life one wished to keep hidden will be exposed. Some clients undertake the procedure as an act of self-improvement. Others will see it as a way to start with a clean slate before walking down the aisle. Some find it liberating, others as the pathway to a greater truth.
Problems arise when Simon becomes addicted to the stones, using them to recreate moments from his own past. The harsh realities of life pale in comparison to the warmth of a good memory. Potential for career advancement leads them to a rather odd job, aiding a widow named Jane (Paprika Steen) in locating her husband, missing some eight years. His absence has left Jane with a fractured psyche; she obsessively spends her days digging for her husband’s body.
Her daugher Rebecca (the awesomely named Tuppance Middleton) has not spoken in three years. Simon and Bennet soon learn that Rebecca possesses the same kind of psychic mind mojo. When she infiltrates an extraction, she and Simon begin to spin uncontrollably through each other’s subconscious. Rebecca’s experience in memory-hopping isn’t as refined as Simon’s, so they end up intertwined in each other’s grey matter. It’s a fantastic creative concept that allows the viewer to delve into a character’s history without relying on the same old tired exposition.
And it is. It’s madness—inspired madness. The same kind of madness that inspired awesome films like “12 Monkeys” and “Brazil.” “Skeletons” can easily be mentioned beside them, too. The thing about great high-concept movies is not just the execution of a more cerebral theme but the attention paid to the characters that inhabit this world.
Writer/director Nick Whitfield has the kind of creative skill set that excites me. Whatever this guy does next, I’ll be standing in line. And it’s rare in a film festival to see something so dynamic in both concept and execution. Usually, one of those components ends up being stronger than the other, be it the constraints of the budget or the inability to translate a grand idea into something visually legible. Getting a movie like this to fire on all chambers is a hefty task at any budget.
The cast is sensational, doing a great job of crafting real characters. Each of them seem a bit empty, desperate for greater meaning. As they delve deeper into the secrets of Jane and Rebecca’s life, Simon and Bennet gain clearer focus on their own lives, as well as learning the consequences of facing their own pasts.
“Skeletons” is a brilliant bit of work deserving of finding an audience.