×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Living and the Dead

A perfect example of the kind of artistically exemplary but challenging English-language feature no longer assured easy passage to global arthouse auds, "The Living and the Dead" has been kicking around fests -- winning plaudits en route -- since early 2006. Fourth feature for writer-director Simon Rumley is a striking study of madness that skirts horror territory. Like David Cronenberg's stylistically different but thematically similar "Spider," this will likely fascinate a repeat-viewing faithful while striking others as too dark, too eccentric and too damn arty. Nonetheless, it's a near-brilliant effort that could reward adventuresome offshore distribs.

With:
With: Leo Bill, Kate Fahy, Roger Lloyd Pack, Sarah Ball, Neil Conrich, Richard Wills-Cotton, Alan Perrin, Richard Syms.

A perfect example of the kind of artistically exemplary but challenging English-language feature no longer assured easy passage to global arthouse auds, “The Living and the Dead” has been kicking around fests — winning plaudits en route — since early 2006. Fourth feature for writer-director Simon Rumley is a striking study of madness that skirts horror territory. Like David Cronenberg’s stylistically different but thematically similar “Spider,” this will likely fascinate a repeat-viewing faithful while striking others as too dark, too eccentric and too damn arty. Nonetheless, it’s a near-brilliant effort that could reward adventuresome offshore distribs.

Manic man-child James (Leo Bill) is the schizoid only child of financially embattled Lord Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd Pack) and ill Lady Nancy (Kate Fahy). When dad has to go take care of business (possibly involving bankruptcy), he expects hired caregivers will take care of wife and son.

Unfortunately, Junior has other ideas. Temporarily free from pa’s stern control, James locks Nurse Mary (Sarah Ball) out of the vast Brocklebank manse, takes a lone phone off hook, and insists “I’m looking after Mummy!” — causing no end of distress for a bedridden parent already in severe pain.

Handheld, sped-up shots of an increasingly manic off-meds James contrast with claustrophobic closeups and elegant wide shots. Latter beautifully convey the decrepit, sparely decorated spaces of the manse, which has clearly seen better days.

The suspicious nurse returns with police by the pic’s midsection. But just as James’ antics seem to have reached their tragic, logical endpoint, the script pulls a switcheroo that reframes everything we’ve seen. Have we been misled by James’ paranoid p.o.v.? Is mum ill at all? Things grow more surreal (and icky) once the lines of past and present, reality and delusion arecrossed. Culmination is a cruelly clearheaded staircase standoff — perhaps the most nerve-wracking between a violent nutjob and a maternal figure since “The Shining.”

Fudging time periods (some action seems set in the early ’60s), pic finally makes sense of a framing device in which a mad, fragile elderly man runs around an abandoned mansion.

No doubt some will view “The Living and the Dead” over and over, trying to nail the screenplay’s ambiguous dividing lines between madness and reality. On the other hand, many — including most mainstream horror genre fans — will consider this a pretentious, over-aestheticized exercise in pseudo-psychological tripe. Stylistically, the film certainly has more in common with Peter Greenaway and Terence Davies than with the Hammer canon. Yet it drinks deeply from them all.

Bill is extraordinary in sustaining an extreme character. Fahy and Pack are excellent in de facto dual roles, hers the more grueling.

Milton Kam’s striking widescreen lensing, Will Field’s color-distortive production design and Richard Chester’s complex score (spare Satie-style piano as well as more jarring sounds) are all perfectly in tune. All conspire to strike a tone at once macabre, mannered, poignant and desperately unhinged.

The Living and the Dead

U.K.

Production: A Spectrum Media presentation in association with Vita Pictures of a Giant Films and Rumleyvision production. Produced by Nick O'Hagan, Simon Rumley. Executive producers, Elliott Grove, Uday Tiwari, Mark Foligno, Steve Milne. Co-producer, Carl Schoenfeld. Directed, written by Simon Rumley.

Crew: Camera (color), Milton Kam; editor, Ben Putland; music, Richard Chester; production designer, Will Field; art director, Alisdair McKey; costume designer, Alice Wolfbauer; sound (Dolby Digital), Ash Tirabady; assistant directors, Mick Ward, Simon Downes; casting, Joyce Nettles. Reviewed at Another Hole in the Head, San Francisco, June 5, 2007. Running time: 82 MIN.

With: With: Leo Bill, Kate Fahy, Roger Lloyd Pack, Sarah Ball, Neil Conrich, Richard Wills-Cotton, Alan Perrin, Richard Syms.

More Film

  • Jimi Hendrix sound check Monterey Pop

    Film Constellation Adds ‘Show Me the Picture’ to Berlin Market Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

    London-based sales and financing house Film Constellation has added Alfred George Bailey’s feature documentary “Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall” to its Berlin market slate. The film will screen to buyers at the European Film Market ahead of its SXSW Film Festival premiere. Submarine Entertainment is handling distribution in North America. The [...]

  • 'Sink or Swim,' 'Custody' Lead Race

    'Sink or Swim,' 'Custody' Lead Race for France's Cesar Awards

    French actor-turned-director Gilles Lellouche’s “Sink or Swim” and Xavier Legrand’s feature debut “Custody” lead the race for this year’s Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, with 10 nominations each, including best picture and best director. “Sink or Swim” (“Le Grand Bain” in France), a star-driven dramedy about a men’s synchronized swimming team, world-premiered at [...]

  • Face to Face with German Films

    Face to Face with German Films Unveils the Six ‘Faces’ of 2019 (EXCLUSIVE)

    Teutonic promotional organization German Films has announced that its annual initiative supporting German filmmaking internationally, Face to Face With German Films, will focus on actors and actresses as the campaign enters its fourth year. Six of Germany’s leading thesps – Maria Dragus, Christian Friedel, Luise Heyer, Jonas Nay, Jördis Triebel and Fahri Yardim – will [...]

  • (L to R) VIGGO MORTENSEN and

    'Green Book' Lands Post-Oscars Theatrical Release in China

    Fresh off Monday’s news that it had picked up five Academy Award nominations, best picture favorite “Green Book” is set for more good luck. The film will hit Chinese theaters on March 1, the first weekend after the Oscars, which fall on Feb 24, Alibaba Pictures announced on its official social media account. The film [...]

  • Fan Bingbing

    Chinese Celebrities Pay $1.7 Billion in Back Taxes Following Fan Bingbing Scandal

    Chinese film and TV stars have paid about $1.7 billion (RMB11.7 billion) in additional taxes, following last summer’s scandal surrounding actress Fan Bingbing. The figure was announced late Tuesday by China’s State Tax Administration. Chinese authorities launched a probe into the tax affairs of the entertainment sector last October. Companies and individuals were asked to [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Film News Roundup: AMC, Regal to Leave 'Roma' Out of Best Picture Showcases

    In today’s film news roundup, “Roma” will not be in the best picture showcases at AMC and Regal, “Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church” gets a release and SAG-AFTRA’s David White has a new appointment. ‘ROMA’ SPURNED AMC Theatres and Regal Cinemas are leaving Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” out of their upcoming annual showings of the contenders for [...]

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. “We’re kind of going back to more of a thematic element. I have some close [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content