SEAT AT THE BACK

SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Monday, 19 January 2015

THE REEDS (2010) // A brilliantly broody Anna Brewster, Wally the Reed Cutter - and the loneliness of the Norfolk Broads; all boost the cult appeal of this rustly British horror.


*PLOT SPOILERS MAY BE HIDING WITH LOCALS AMONG THE REEDS BELOW ~ WATCH BEFORE READING *

A bunch of wine-swigging, dope-smoking trendy young Londoners leave the City for a boating trip on the lakes around the Norfolk Broads. Things don't seem right (round these 'ere parts) and a local gang (suitably grubby and steely-eyed; you know the kind of thing) roam the marshes and scurry through the forest of reeds like the killer kids in Stephen King's Children of the Corn were once prone to do through the cobs.

 



When the local 'boat hire man' - Croker, played by a gritty-teethed Geoff Bell, (he may be the 'local boat hire man' but he doesn't have a boat to hire out at first, so it's a loose description!) finds the kids a 24 foot pleasure cruiser to play on,  the scene is set for lots more chasing through reeds and running aground on shallow waterways before the real killer strikes and all hell, nearly - breaks loose.

But why are all the living suddenly seeing reflections of the dead in every bunch of reeds worth peering out from? Could it be 'He Who Walks Behind the Rows'? No, that was King's corn film. This one has a 'He Who Walks Behind the Reeds' and you'll never guess who it is. Well, I didn't - everyone else I know who has seen this movie, did. Which is why I should quit while I'm ahead and go straight to the jugular . . .

Blood!

Oh god, mother of reeds - blood!

There's a lot of it. Especially on the boat when one of the trendy young lithe (ok, maybe not Will Mellor - more butch and rugged as the bad ass, one man boy band, skinny dipping Chris) gets seriously injured. The film quickly heads into a horror-version of Reservoir Dogs, and is suitably revolting and eye-closingly painful at times. Of course, the criminal horrors in Tarantino's movie were cleverer than usual gore 'n' pour movies because they showed the red stuff matter of factly when it flowed (and it flowed into a great big puddle in Reservoir Dogs). Here, in The Reeds, from Greenwich-born director Nick Cohen; the pain and gore is focused on more directly; to the extent later in the film (especially during a nasty burning sequence) where it becomes borderline tiresome.




One sure-fire route through the reeds of many a low budget horror film production is the mucky mantra that many CV-free directors fall into most rapidly - of mixing up lots of blood on the cheap and flinging it around set in the hope of appearing extreme and all 'godfatherly of gory' when really it just adds to the cheapness all round.
 
The greatest directors of classic 70/80s horror movies (eras in which The Reeds strangely basks in) such as Fulci, Craven, Carpenter, Cunningham and Argento triumphed over small budgets by adding class, flair and the kind of 'unseen before, gore-surprises' that, to this day, remain less blood and smut; more a kind of disturbing art - sequences of film innovation that define horror for non-horror fans and devotees alike, rather than tread marsh water for the genre until something more surprising comes along. Like, for instance - Let The Right One In, that revamped and rebooted vampire movies and made them rightly modern and fresh again.




What happens to one major character in The Reeds (who I won't give away, but you've probably guessed) - in an especially nasty impalement - probably wallows too long on that character's pain; to the point where you want the character to die as he (or she!) is hindering the plot. The same with a character horribly burnt in the water later on; the state of being is so uncomfortable that you know that this character couldn't possibly last long; these kind of walking injured become casualties of plot fluidity and need to be - as heartless as this may sound - culled. Only the best and most adept directors - like, of course, Tarantino, can carry off sequences such as a man slipping around in a rapidly-pooling mess of his own blood and make it an essential part of the plot that the film thrives on, rather than weakens and dies, upon.

The Norfolk Broads - a criss-cross map of lakes and rivers - is a great setting for a horror movie (hmm - yes; especially one called The Reeds!) and covers 303 kilometres. Over 200 square kilometres of these waterways are navigable. It's a strange and ominous place seeped in great beauty and even the local tourist board describes the area as: 'Britain's Magical Waterland' and talks of 'the mystic beauty of the rivers'.




It would be hard to screw up this natural formidable landscape for the camera lens, in the same way that shots of corn fields would be hard to ruin for the excitement of the Children of the Corn to play in - and director Nick Cohen does an excellent job making sure this landscape, as is the case in many of the very best horror films, takes on an identity of its own. Whether the footage is shot at night or during the day, there's the same ominous, hidden sense of rustling terror that pervades and surrounds the waterways throughout. Cinematography from Dennis Madden is suitably lush, swishy and lonely.

Sadly, the plot of The Reeds isn't as good as the cast or the direction demands. Which isn't to say this isn't a decent idea for a story or that the film doesn't sparkle with often witty and naturalistic dialogue - because it does. The thing is - the character of 'the reeds' is so impressive and the idea of being isolated and stuck within this vast expanse and possibly in an area frequented by local unrulies; dog-slaughtering and barbequing feral weed dwellers with strange sexual appetites (hinted at - sadly neglected) that the rather mundane supernatural thriller that follows kind of blahs-out everything else that's so good. A lost, lonely (neglected by society and stabbed in the back by progress) vibe of the local reed-travelling community, is ultimately dominated and neatly strangled by the unfaked seething landscape (rightly - with some exceptional location filming), and then fatally by a ludicrous supernatural plot (wrongly) that starts to dominate and, eventually - kill off the originality of everything else.






Probably, King's glorious Children of the Corn tale also suffered from this syndrome; at least in the film version. The rustling of unseen threat through the corn and an isolated, empty town is far more memorable than the ultimate revealing of a demonic thing in the field. It's the same with King's IT. Nothing - no beast; no alien; no creature from the pit - could ever be as brilliantly scary as the gossamer threads of the past being torn and restitched through a slow-building nightmare dreamscape; nothing more scary than creeping, shushed dread. Whether kids through corn, under the road in deep drains; a clown - or through reeds.

But take out the occasional moments of silliness in The Reeds, like the annoying final reveal of the killer and a downbeat, repetitive ending - or the occasional reliance on gore as substitute for innovation, and The Reeds is a brilliant horror movie.  




Some of the underwater filming also lets the side down only in that it's obviously super clean water and clearly filmed in a tank (end credits confirm this) even though the film earns brownie points for actually showing us what's under the surface, unlike other lazier pretenders, and the footage itself is well shot. And hey - maybe the water in the lakes is always clear and lovely (except for the fact that when Will Mellor's character jumps in butt naked in the real water; it's pretty murky and yellow - eeew, not quite sure what that tells us!).

The underwater filming is bolstered by reliable movie below-the-surface man Bernie Prentice behind the camera (with credits from films as diverse as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to recent underwater gaffer work on Captain Phillips, Under the Skin and the upcoming trapped in the depths palm-clencher; Pressure). It's the same with special effects, score and cinematography - there's an eclectic crew on board this film working hard to polish the peat and create a great deal of awe quite often; marking the film out as resolutely different and uncharted at times.






The best off-the-wall moments include that brilliant set piece that focuses upon the unexpected and inventively-realised (before it drags a bit) injury of one of the weekenders that dominates the first half (along with the moody landscape effectively closing in and strangling any of the wild abandon and freedom this group of London trendies had expected - all in a big mass of razor-sharp reeds).

Make-up, despite the sometimes forced upon us gore, is still very good (reminding of the original Friday the 13th) and the impaling entirely convincing and nasty when it could have looked silly and tacky. There's also an ominous, ambient, stalking soundtrack from Vincent Watts (also the supervising sound editor on upcoming and hotly-tipped hip Brit flick Kids in Love). With all this talent on board The Reeds - you have to think; it better be a damn good movie after all that effort.





Also faultless is the main cast. Will Mellor - despite often attracting criticism as being lightweight - is fab here as the prone-to-random-violence big mouth (and big body - big head); Chris. The character of a mysterious stranger in the reeds; the 'red-headed girl' (Scarlett Sabet) earns enigma points from the first teasing glimpse and establishes a connection with cast member and star Anna Brewster (as Laura) through brief glances alone. The relationship is hardly developed and the connection lost in the marshland by the end, despite attempts at a revival. But while it lasts - it's great. And seductive at first; almost erotic - eventually, we realise, it should be anything but that!





But Anna Brewster is the stand-out here; magnificent, feisty, naturalistic, stunningly pretty and steely wild-eyed - you develop an instant bond with her character throughout. Sadly the film doesn't unwind long enough to really care about this girl's life as much as it should do and her fate - by the end, is a tepid fizzle rather than a full-on scorcher. You kind of hope that Laura gets her feet free of the reeds and kicks more ass, but she is restrained by plot and eventually fades out; kicking ass just a bit and stuck in the whispering reeds with nowhere left to run. Which doesn't mean it's not one of the best, simmering, raw performances for a heroine in a horror movie in recent years (free of the usual Brit stage school theatrics) - because it is.

Anna's friend; the calmly-spoken, reliable Nick (O.T. Fagbenle) also reeks of class act and, like only some actors can do; hooks you in to his side of the plot all the way through. We don't want this man to die (although there are some cast members we can't wait to have silenced - usually when suffering from horrendous injuries). 




Of course, in this movie; you're already halfway dead just by being there, but Nick has a better chance than most of survival in the run up to the slice-and-shoot finale that, alongside Laura, reveals a potential double act that could easily have been revived in future instalments should that have been the intention. Sequels that, so far, have not surfaced - stuck forever in the (usually less that 4 metres deep - fact!) depths of the Norfolk Broads.

The Reeds, then, is a pretty thrilling low budget landscape horror that excels in brooding menace, creeping isolation and random threats. What it does less well is delve into the supernatural like a watery version of The Others. Had that element been removed and the protagonists been the local crazy gang working alone - or even just a big fat monster in the marsh, then this could have been an outstanding sail into the heart of darkness without the occasional running aground on a big fat chunk of screenplay that drifts too often into supernatural nonlinear plotting that just boggles the mind.

 




A good ghost story - even if it wants to be - this isn't; the film is too derivative and fanciful and over-plotted in terms of the supernatural to really scare. But still bursting to break free is a raw and gorgeously-lensed, atmospheric horror movie all the same - one that overall feels genuinely original and wallows in scary places that you quite want to be lost in yourself (without the getting killed bit). Just like I always wanted to be in that corn looking for He Who Walks Behind the Rows or on board The Orca with Quint, Brody and Hooper. And whenever I walk along a corn field I think of King, or swim - of Jaws. Now, if I ever motor down the Broads, I'll probably be looking excitedly in the reeds . .

The start of this film, with an exhilarating glimpse of indie soundtrack (the exhilarating 'Darkest Hour' by now seemingly vanished London band - Sister) hints at a potential cult movie to come - and even though this impetus eventually fades a little more than hoped; it's still a status it probably deserves.  





For me, The Reeds should have kept this lively, brash edge of a first half going, instead of eventually settling for traditional scares and made more of the reeds and the landscape not just as location, but as a cause and effect of the horror itself; made more of the well-realised, hooded and skinheaded rough and ready (or rather reedy) local ruffians (all caricatures, of course, but still very effective) that roam the waterways and present some kind of threat of real and actual violence instead of the black-eyed and actually dead kind.

At one point I thought the film was heading in that rougher direction with a single edgy encounter in the dark with the marsh gang all gathering together in a clearing around a camp fire; slaughtering anything on four legs and almost daring to slip the film into a ritualistic, marsh gas-trip of a freak out. Sadly, not.

Still - any film that credits The Cadbury Family, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and Wally the Reed Cutter at the end can only be borderline genius in my mind. One day, if I ever became a horror film director, I'll make a movie about Wally the Reed Cutter, set on the Norfolk Broads - and kill anything that could be a ghost on sight.



words: mark gordon palmer



Final Thought: Is Sara Puro, credited as the film's 'Rushes Runner', actually a rusher through the reeds or a runner with the rushes . . ?

DVD RELEASE: HIGH FLIERS (UK)


Lots of trailers, but no other extras. Sound and picture as clear as the lakes (or the underwater tank).





 

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