Tone 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.
The 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.
There 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.