Tone Death (2017) Review

rsz_tonedeathTone Death (2017)

Directors: Roger Armstrong, John Hickman
Star: John Hickman

Review from the World Premiere at the Triple Six Film Festival

Pulling off a successful mockumentary or “found footage” genre film is a more complex task than it initially appears. Too often the genre can be used as an excuse for wobbly camerawork, lazy directing and bad storytelling from people too idle to exert themselves. The likes of The Pyramid, The Paranormal Activity series and the recent Blair Witch sequel are perfunctory, lethargic snoozefests for the large part. Although they still pale in comparison to the Danny Dyer vehicle Pimp, a staggeringly rubbish film which unwittingly parodied itself by casting Dyer as some sort of cockney Don Corleone.

Thankfully, British indie flick, Tone Death falls on the positive side populated by the likes of Trollhunter and Borderlands. Directors and stars Roger Armstrong and John Hickman excellent borrow tools from the genre to deliver not so much a black comedy as a “black-hole” comedy.

rsz_tonedeath1_zpsyzjskn8oThe film centres on friends Roger – a DJ and ex-raver unbalanced by previous substance use – and his bumbling friend John (played by Armstrong and Hickman respectively). Roger believes he has found a sound frequency to elevate a person to a higher state of non-physical consciousness and constructs a ludicrous homemade machine to test his theory. It is a weird mix of religion and drug induced, new age techno-spiritualism that will be familiar to anyone involved in rave culture over the last 30 years.

Manchester’s Triple 6 Horror Festival was the first place to show Tone Death on the big screen but in many ways the film lies much closer to the outstanding Four Lions in its tone. Consistently drawing out laughs from bleak, mundane and grim scenarios that successfully walk the line of good taste.

Armstrong and Hickman provide a tremendous double act. Armstrong’s working-class, clubland Victor Frankenstein is hilarious. A never to be finished 20 year album and quest for spiritual perfection belying a total nihilism about the human race. Some of the support characters do suffer from a lack of dimension with the exception of Stephen Robertson’s bumbling local drunk, familiar to any town centre in Britain, who threatens to steal the show.

rsz_tonedeath2_zpsjr4epxysThere is plenty of splatter and gore on show but the film succeeds in avoiding being mean-spirited while successfully nailing its intended targets for humour. There is, to a large extent an affection for the characters, if in part because they are closely based on the actors portraying them.

Speaking to the team behind Tone Death there idea for a follow up is another black comedy following a band of inept slashers attempting to kill the final girl but continuously cocking it up. If the jokes and love of horror cinema are anything to go off here, we should all certainly hope it’s a film that we all get to see. A terrific debut.

Cruel Summer (2016) Triple Six Festival Review

rsz_cruel_summer_posterCruel Summer (2016)

Screened at The Triple Six Horror Film Festival , Manchester 28th May 2017

Directors/Writers: Phillip Escott, Craig Newman

Stars: Danny Miller, Reece Douglas, Richard Pawulski

Out Now on UK DVD & On Demand

Shot over what must have been ten of the most intense shooting days in cinema production history, Cruel Summer has proved to be an incredibly divisive film. In its screenings at Frightfest and Manchester’s recent Triple 6 Horror festival, audiences have been sharply divided and Q&A sessions with directors and writers Phillip Escott and Craig Newman have escalated from relaxed talking shops into heated debates.

Small wonder considering the tough subject matter on display. The story follows autistic teenager Danny (Richard Pawulski) who is camping on his own for the first time to gain his Duke of Edinburgh award. Meanwhile, bitter, violent local youth, Nicholas (Emmerdale’s Danny Miller) who egged on by a lie over an affair from jealous friend Julia (Natalie Martins), hunts down and tortures Danny along with a third friend Calvin (Waterloo Road’s Reece Douglas).

It is, without question, one of the toughest films I have ever had to watch and do not want to watch again anytime soon. This is not a knock against the film though. Escott and Newman have delivered one of the most important and brilliant pieces of British filmmaking in years. The subject matter can be, at best, described as thoroughly harrowing. My emotions were entirely drained by the end and I was left with a seething, boiling anger over the events I had just witnessed. So much so that I had to head outside and decompress afterwards.

rsz_cs1Comparisons I heard were to Cannibal Holocaust and Last House on the Left, those comparisons do this film a disservice as it has far more in common with the works of Shane Meadows, Mike Leigh and Ben Wheatley, presenting a gritty realism but is not cheap, gross or exploitative. Much of the brutality is actually unseen, down to superb directing and editing. It is the oppressive intensity. The hopelessness of the situation. The grim, pointless mess of it all that works you over.

Escott and Newman based the story on a number of different cases that have happened in Britain in recent years and the subject matter is treated with great care and sensitivity.

The performances from the four lead actors are incredible. Miller, not shy of getting to grips with meaty storylines is excellent as the psychotic, hateful slimeball Nicholas. Just thinking about the character is enough to raise my hackles again. Puwulski also pulls off an astonishing performance as Danny, avoiding using tropes that so often inadvertently mock those with mental disabilities. A word on Natalie Martins too, who produces a more restrained but equally outstanding performance as the jealous Julia. Clearly in love with Danny but jealous over his infatuation to the point of egging him into committing a heinous and besotted with him to the point where she goes along with it to the end.

rsz_cs2Cruel Summer will not entertain in any traditional sense but it educates, informs and elicits the necessary feelings of disgust, dismay and anger from the audience. In a time where hate crimes have spiked, tacitly encouraged by a vile and mean-spirited government keen to target the most vulnerable in society, Cruel Summer is an important film about hate crimes and the mindless violence of a lost generation of underclass youth.