DIR/Wri: Simon Blake • PRO: Colette Delaney-Smith, Zorana Piggott • DOP: Andy Parsons • ED: Agnieszka Liggett • MUS: Alex Grey • DES: Mayou Trikerioti • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Jonathan Slinger, Elodie Yung, Amanda Mealing, Sonny Green
Adapted from his own play Lazarus Man, screenwriter Simon Blake’s first full-length directorial feature Still merges portent social realism with menacing psychological thrills in this grim and affecting film. Set in a bleak North London milieu, the film explores the unprovoked and interminable harassment experienced by a grieving man at the hands of a sinister and truculent teen gang. Although not a critique on gang culture per se, this unpropitious portrait of gang violence at micro-level does reflect existing social trends of metropolitan gang crime at macro-level, creating an apocalyptic prognostication of social catastrophe at the mercy of paralysing gang cultures. Still encapsulates a radical shift in fear seeping through society; the increasing social threat embodied by armed hunters in hoodies who stalk and terrorize victims with new types of weapons for the contemporary age.
Photographer Tom Carver (Aiden Gillen) lost his son in a hit-and-run accident over a year ago. Unable to assimilate his grief and divorce with a nugatory photographic career, he turns to alcohol and drugs to obliterate his overwhelming torment. On his way back from the off-licence one night, he innocuously bumps into teen-gang leader, Carl (Sonny Green), initiating a chilling chain of events, which culminates in a horrifying decision for marked man Carver and presenting an opportunity for ultimate redemption and revenge.
Although it may appear ambiguous at times as to whether Still is a one-man character analysis on psychological trauma or a highly-stylised noirish thriller, it is nonetheless a grippingly immersive and socially valuable film, which is situated at the intersection of relevant socio-cultural and psycho-behavioural concerns. Blake’s spasmodic shift in the narrative’s trajectory from the exploration of personal loss and professional frustration to personal survival and vengeance via sadistic emotional torture by a young antagonist pushes the parameters of rationality to its upper limits, challenging and probing the audience with the boundaries of their own moral consciences.
Aidan Gillen is spellbinding as the man and father whose descent from self-pitying grief and abandonment into dehumanized, soulless aggression thrusts the narrative forwards at an emotionally electrifying rate. Gillen portrays Carver as a somewhat latter-day Hamlet; an essentially benevolent man who struggles to retain his sanity as he seeks to apprehend his bizarre, fragmented reality through grief and psychological hostility. Submerged in irrepressible chaos and entangled between bravado and self-abhorrence, Gillen pierces Carver’s fear, paranoia and failure with melancholy, bitterness and cynicism, making it difficult to ascertain who or what Carver predominantly grieves for; his son, a squandered photographic career or his sanity. That he loses a child whom he realises he never knew and that his artistic interpretations on the world have failed to ignite hold him up as the epitome of human failure, fuelling and blinding his motivation for retribution. Carver is as indecisive and hesitant as he is reckless and impulsive; characteristics that have severe consequences for those around him and his endurance of abject misery through sadistic threats and violence becomes the angst-driven catalyst he needs to either morally administer or repudiate revenge.
Still’s small-scale, low budget skilfully creates effectively high production values which alternate between bleak and dehydrated North London cityscapes and Carver’s flat, his own psychological graveyard; spaces that pulverize and devour any remnants of Carver’s lucidity. Blake expertly toys with pace which he aligns with Carver’s wavering mental state, scenes swinging between prolonged tension-fuelled stillness, evoking the grieving process and decent into alcoholism, to brittle and palpation-charged surges of the false highs of substance abuse and psychotic revenge. Appropriating a film noir style of the 1950s, low-key lighting and darkly lit scenes marry with blindingly lurid, neon hues of 1970s neo-noirs through an uncontrollable drug-fuelled psychosis, heightening Carver’s suffocation, claustrophobia and delusory elation. Rather than mimic the current vogue for fierce electro-pop in contemporary urban cinema, Blake revisits the evocative and moody jazzy soundtracks of noir, which reflect Carver’s many interchangeable moods and gives a more sadistically seductive feel to the narrative.
Still marks an impressive full-length directorial debut from Blake and frighteningly palpable turns from Aidan Gillen and Sonny Green. The fusion of film noir conventions with a portrait of a bereaved man’s descent into psychological disintegration and an inadvertent social commentary on gang youth culture should be slightly chaotic, misplaced and overambitious but it is rather a combination of these elements, set within a North London social realist context, that makes the film all the more disconcerting, and convincing; Carver in North London, could be anyone, anywhere, at anytime.
Still is released 14th May 2015