Monday 2 May 2016

Aaaaaaaah! (UK 2015: Dir Steve Oram)

A few weeks ago I witnessed Ben Wheatley's take on the breakdown of civilised society in this year's High Rise. In Aaaaaaaah! director Steve Oram (who's also a cast member) offers us a different view of societal change, where humans, who have mysteriously become simian in language and gesture (but not hirsuteness) wage territorial war with each other in the suburbs of south London (East Dulwich and Denmark Hill, location spotters).

I have to credit an imdb reviewer who accurately described this film as Quest for Fire meets Shameless. It also has elements of Claude Farado's anarchistic movie Themroc (1973) and Lars von Trier's The Idiots (1998). If this were a sketch (and it is undoubtedly a one gag movie), it would be passed off as a slight idea with some comic merit. Stretched to a 75 minute film, the repetition of the basic setup - people as apes squabbling with each other in domestic situations while indulging in the gamut of ape like behavior (eating, fighting and fornicating basically with a side order of preening and vacant stares) - should be tiresome, but the energy of the cast and the sheer oddness of what's on screen prevents that. The feature length also invites the viewer to suspect that there might be some darker directorial purpose to these shenanigans, which I personally doubt. While clearly in some way a satire of modern life and families, I think Oram just wanted to have some rather surreal fun with a lot of his comedy mates and make an 'out there' movie.

And surreal it most definitely is. Thank goodness that television comedy, from Chris Morris's output to The Mighty Boosh, has educated our collective visual palates for this kind of thing. From the bare breasted Nigella-alike celebrity cook the family watch on TV,  to the scrotum dangling rituals of the males, this takes the great British obsession with body parts to a whole new level.

Cast wise the director makes some fairly obvious decisions. Oram as Steve is reunited with Alice Lowe (who were so good together as Chris and Tina the killer holidaymakers in Ben Wheatley's 2012 movie Sightseers), and the Booshers Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt both show up. Less successful is the casting of newcomer Lucy Honigman as a more refined member of the simian community whose role is a bit underdeveloped, and Toyah Willcox, as the mother of the family, may have been up for the challenge but always looks like she's a second away from laughing.

This clearly isn't a film for everyone. It's not a horror film as such but there are horrific elements and as a comedy whether you find it funny depends on how much you 'get' the central gag. It's not a film I'd rush to see again, but it's bold, crude, occasionally very funny, and despite the subject matter well filmed, utilising the old 4:3 ratio very effectively - Oram's nod to the video generation or Tarkovsky? Probably both, the wag.  

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