The Acid House

"The Acid House" makes "Trainspotting" look like a mild-mannered youth comedy. The producers of this British pic have said that they wanted the film to be 100% uncut, undiluted Irvine Welsh, and that's exactly what it is, for better or worse. Should pique the interest of U.S. distribs willing to take a chance on such an edgy offering.

“The Acid House” makes “Trainspotting” look like a mild-mannered youth comedy. The producers of this British pic have said that they wanted the film to be 100% uncut, undiluted Irvine Welsh, and that’s exactly what it is, for better or worse. An even tougher, grimmer portrait of life in inner-city Edinburgh than “Trainspotting,” the striking film will click with hard-core Welsh fans, but its pessimistic tone and unrelenting brutality will make it a tough slog for mainstream auds. Stateside chances will be further complicated by the heavy Scottish accents of the characters. Nonetheless, “Acid House” should pique the interest of U.S. distribs willing to take a chance on such an edgy offering.

Based on three stories from the collection “The Acid House,” by “Trainspotting” author Welsh, these ultra-gritty tales put the spotlight on the same sort of beer-swilling, drug-taking, lumpen proles that featured so prominently in Welsh’s most famous novel. The short stories, which were adapted by Welsh himself, are divided into three sections. Opening seg, “The Granton Star Cause,” covers a day in the life of Boab Coyle (Stephen McCole), who’s having one heck of a bad day. First off, he’s sacked by the captain of the neighborhood soccer team, the Granton Star, for his uninspired performance. Boab then heads home, where his embarrassed parents announce that he’ll have to vacate the family home.

He figures maybe this is a great opportunity to move in with his g.f., Evelyn (Jenny McCrindle), and take advantage of sex-on-demand, but she an-nounces over the phone that she’s dumping him for another guy. In frustration, Boab starts beating up on the pay phone … just as a cop is passing by. In short order, he’s arrested, beaten up and fired from his job. Then things take a turn for the surreal when God (Maurice Roeves) appears at the local pub, lambastes Boab as a chronic loser, and promptly turns him into a fly.

“A Soft Touch” will likely be the most troubling story for viewers. Johnny (Kevin McKidd) marries the very pregnant Catriona (Michelle Gomez), who, almost as soon as the baby is born, starts making it with psychopathic upstairs neighbor Larry (Gary McCormack). There’s lots of fairly explicit sex here, including some pretty disturbing scenes in which Johnny listens to his wife being violated while he cradles their baby.

Final section, “The Acid House,” is an inspired comic fantasy with two intersecting tales. Coco Bryce (Ewen Bremner) is a speed-crazed madman with a fondness for mind-altering substances, and he desperately fears committing to his relationship with Kirsty (Arlene Cockburn). Not too far away, Rory (Martin Clunes) and his wife, Jenny (Jemma Redgrave), are about to have their first child. In a wild leap of narrative logic, the baby and an utterly stoned Coco somehow exchange personalities, much to the dismay of all concerned.

There are obvious thematic connections between the stories, but with its disorienting jumps between sections, “The Acid House” suffers from the usual problems associated with multipart pics. That all three stories are downbeat doesn’t help much.

First-time feature helmer Paul McGuigan does a first-rate job with the material. He’s true to the tough tone of Welsh’s writing, makes much use of the razor-sharp wit that is Welsh’s best quality, and delivers a resonant portrait of the tougher side of Scottish culture.

Like “Trainspotting,” the pic is overflowing with memorable performances, including fine turns by “Trainspotting” alumnus Bremner as acid-freak Coco in the last part and McCole as the ultimate loser. The middle story features the strongest acting, with McKidd as the pathetic Johnny, Gomez as his two-timing wife and, in a stunning perf, McCormack — formerly a member of legendary punk band the Exploited — as the psycho neighbor.

Lensing by Alasdair Walker captures grimy flavor of rough hoods, and there are some fairly nifty visual effects, most notably in the final story. Sound-track features a who’s who of cool British rock, with tracks by the Verve, Primal Scream, Belle & Sebastian, Beth Orton, and a new song penned for the movie by Oasis. Mix of alternative-rock and electro-flavored dance numbers suits mood of pic perfectly.

The Acid House

  • Production: A Picture Palace North/Umbrella Prods. production, with the participation of Channel Four and in association with Yorkshire Media Production Agency, Scottish Arts Council National Lottery Fund, Glasgow Film Fund. (International sales: Film Four Intl., London.) Produced by David Muir, Alex Usborne. Directed by Paul McGuigan. Screenplay, Irvine Welsh, based on his collection of short stories.
  • Crew: Camera (color), Alasdair Walker; editor, Andrew Hulme; music, Primal Scream, Nick Cave, Barry Adamson, Beth Orton, Marc Bolan, Oasis, The Verve; costumes, Pam Tait, Lynn Aitken; production designers, Richard Bridgland, Mike Gunn; art directors, Jean Kerr, Rohan Banyard; sound, Brian Howell; associate producers, Carolynne Sinclair Kidd, Alan Brereton. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 17, 1998. Running time: 118 MIN.
  • With: <P ALIGN=CENTER>THE GRANTON STAR CAUSE</p> Boab - Stephen McCole God - Maurice Roeves Kev - Garry Sweeney Evelyn - Jenny McCrindle With: Simon Weir, Iain Andrew, Irvine Welsh, Pat Stanton, Alex Howden, Ann Louise Ross, Dennis O'Connor, John Gardner. <P ALIGN=CENTER>A SOFT TOUCH</p> Johnny - Kevin McKidd Catriona - Michelle Gomez Alec - Tam Dean Burn Larry - Gary McCormack With: Scott Imrie, Niall Greig Fulton, William Blair, Cas Harkins. <P ALIGN=CENTER>THE ACID HOUSE</p> Coco - Ewen Bremner Rory - Martin Clunes Jenny - Jemma Redgrave Kirsty - Arlene Cockburn Emma - Jane Stabler With: Maurice Roeves, Doug Eadie, Andrea McKenna, Billy McElhaney, Ricky Callan.
  • Music By: