A soldier returns to ice the lowlife who humiliated his retarded brother in "Dead Man's Shoes," a darkly loopy genre-bender by Blighty's homegrown maverick, Shane Meadows. Film plays as a quirky Brit riff on everything from U.S. slasher pics to revenge oaters. May click with his small coterie of fest fans but is dead meat in theatrical abattoirs.

A soldier returns to ice the lowlife who humiliated his retarded brother in “Dead Man’s Shoes,” a darkly loopy genre-bender by Blighty’s homegrown maverick, Shane Meadows. Partly recalling his no-budget, slacker featurettes of the mid-’90s, but permeated with the darkness of his impressive second feature, “A Room for Romeo Brass” (1999), film plays as a quirky Brit riff on everything from U.S. slasher pics to revenge oaters but without Meadows’ usual psychological complexity. Disappointing step back from accomplished “Once Upon a Time in the Midlands” may click with his small coterie of fest fans but is dead meat in theatrical abattoirs.

Paddy Considine, the unsettling psycho in “Romeo Brass,” cops the lead script credit as well as the main role here, as Richard, who, after a spell in the army, returns to his native town in the Midlands and immediately starts spooking his former pals by popping up in a gas mask. Word quickly spreads that “Anthony’s brother” is back, and, sure enough, the body count soon starts to mount.

Divided into five day-chapters, film is peppered with scratchy, B&W footage limning a past atrocity against the simple-minded Anthony (Toby Kebbell), though the exact nature of it — and its result — isn’t completely clarified until late on. Comprehension is also complicated in the early stages by scenes of Richard apparently talking to the dumb but settled Anthony as they hide out at a farmhouse on the edge of town.

All of this wouldn’t matter too much if there was enough going on elsewhere in the movie to maintain attention. The villains here are typical Meadows characters — scruffy, foul-mouthed, basically likable losers — but helmer seems unsure how far to push the goofy comedy that usually accompanies them. Their leader is the macho, very disturbed Sonny (Gary Stretch), who seems imported from a different world.

Considine’s calm, reasoned playing of the hate-filled Richard is at its most chilling when the mass slaughter really starts; but the climax is weak and predictable, accompanied by bleeding chunks of religioso music by Arvo Part that seem a last-ditch attempt to invest the story with some redemptive quality.

Tech credits are deliberately grungy, with Daniel Cohen’s photography de-beautifying the workaday settings and surrounding scenery, and color processing is bleak. Running time seems stretched, even at 86 minutes, and some of the accented dialogue may test Anglophone auds.

Dead Man's Shoes

U.K.

Production

An Optimum Releasing release of a Film Four, Emmi Films presentation of a Warp Films production, in association with Big Arty Prod. (International sales: Element X, London.) Produced by Mark Herbert. Co-producer, Louise Knight. Executive producers, Tessa Ross, Peter Carlton, Steve Beckett, Will Clarke. Directed by Shane Meadows. Screenplay, Paddy Considine, Meadows, Paul Fraser.

Crew

Camera (color), Daniel Cohen; editors, Chris Wyatt, Lucas Roche, Celia Haining; music, works by Arvo Part and others; art director, Adam Tomlinson; sound (Dolby Digital), Stephen Haywood, Nigel Haeth, James Feltham; assistant director, Griffin ; casting, Carol Crane. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (British Galas), Aug. 23, 2004. (Also in Venice Film Festival -- Venice Days; Toronto Film Festival -- Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell, Stuart Wolfenden, Neil Bell, Paul Sadot, Jo Hartley, Seamus O'Neill, Paul Hurstfield, Emily Aston, George Newton.

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