FrightFest 2015: Steve Oram and co literally go ape in a hilarious black comedy
Following the magnificently deranged, award-winning Sightseers was always going to be a challenge for its co-screenwriter and star Steve Oram. Undaunted, his directorial debut takes the transgression up a notch by replacing traditional dialogue with primitive grunts and shrieks, as it reduces humans to their base impulses – food, fighting, sex – while retaining the familiar trappings of modern society (lascivious cookery programmes, wild parties and ludicrous computer games).
Part wildlife film, part investigative doc, part shoddy soap opera, with exploitation influences thrown in for good measure, it centres on a group of adults (played by Toyah Willcox, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Lucy Honigman and Sean Reynard) who live as a fragile family unit. Capturing the clan's rituals, rivalries and chequered history (Julian Barratt's displaced patriarch has relocated to a spot by the back garden bins), it observes as this precarious domestic dynamic is thrown into renewed jeopardy with the arrival of two audacious out-of-towners (Oram and Tom Meeten).
According to Willcox, Oram presented his cast with a very fine, very funny English-language script, which they were then required to translate into ape. While the point is made immediately – that, despite our ostensible sophistication, the human race really hasn't come that far – and isn't massively expanded on, Oram's first-feature proves consistently intriguing and reliably amusing. The performers are beyond game, with the cream-of-the-British-comedy-crop cast investing proceedings with energy, conviction and variety.
The film's 4:3 ratio was apparently chosen for practical reasons rather than artistic ones but, along with the sometimes clandestine camerawork, it amps up the voyeurism, as we curiously peer into a world both utterly recognisable and terrifyingly other, with the tight framing increasing the discomfort, while the anarchic score underlines the raw, fluctuating and fickle emotions at play.
Described affectionately as an 'avant-garde twat' by Rhind-Tutt, against the odds, Oram sustains the joke to feature-length (albeit a succinct 79-minutes). He transcends the ape-shit premise to create something that's enjoyably boundary pushing, surprisingly nuanced and – thanks to superb work from Barratt in particular – sporadically poignant, with an ending that delivers a wounding blow.
Screened on Fri 28 Aug as part of FrightFest 2015. Selected release from Fri 4 Sep.