Aug 24, 2014

Frightfest London 2014: The Forgotten

Note: Most of my Frightfest coverage will be at Afraid of the Dark, but as Steve and I have much the same take on this film we decided we should only run one review there.

Dir: Oliver Frampton
If there's one thing I'm not keen on in current horror cinema it's ghost stories, particularly those centering on things that go bump just off screen, so I did find myself wary, early on, of the direction that The Forgotten began to go in, but it ended up taking me by surprise.

The Forgotten is set in contemporary London and centres on a father and son (Mark and Tommy, played by Shaun Dingwall and Clem Tibber respectively), who are living a hand to mouth existence, squatting in a block of flats scheduled to be demolished, while Mark strips the flats for copper that he can sell.  At night, Tommy begins to hear noises from the flat next door and becomes curious about what may be going on on the other side of his bedroom wall.  He befriends a local waitress named Carmen (Elarica Gallacher) and soon the two of them are drawn into the mystery behind the noises.

Perhaps the best thing about The Forgotten is that, while it's a very important and effective aspect of the film, the things that go bump in the night element of it is not the driving force of the drama.  Instead director Oliver Frampton and his co-writer James Hall use the characters to drive the film.  This is vital, and what so many films miss.  I don't care about a mystery very much if I don't care about the characters we're following as we investigate it. This is how The Forgotten draws us in; it spends a good amount of time setting up genuine, interesting characters, so by the time it throws them into danger we're actually scared for them.

The character work here hinges equally on the script and the performances.  For their part, Frampton and Hall provide a screenplay that seems to get its characters just right. Everyone has an identifiable, individual, voice and the dialogue feels well observed without descending into the sort of impenetrable slang that Attack the Block (which this can feel like a far more grounded take on) often did.  The actors give the words a loose feel that makes the film feel all the more as though it is being observed rather than constructed.  This is especially true of the growing friendship between Tommy and Carmen, which is beautifully observed and played.  Clem Tibber and Elarica Gallacher give very different performances; he is reserved and shy, emotions pointing inward while she projects everything outward, sometimes coming off as aggressive, but revealing a softer side as the film goes on.  They play particularly effectively off each other in the scene in which Carmen comes to the flat at night to hear the noises for herself, firmly telling Tommy she's just there as a mate.  The fact that the character detail of this and other scenes is so convincing means that the supernatural elements of the story also play more convincingly, because the film has grounded you in a real world.

Frampton and DP Eben Bolter create an eerie atmosphere in the abandoned flats; a real location actually scheduled for demolition, they have a sense of being haunted even before the supernatural side of the film ramps up.  Aside from the nighttime scenes at the flats the film has a very down to earth visual style, giving it a real sense of place and emphasising the tough circumstances that Tommy is growing up in without pushing the boat out into melodrama.

The Forgotten pulls several clever reversals on us.  For a long time during the first two acts I thought I had the story all figured out.  It all seemed a little telegraphed, but it was well told, stylish, and the performances were excellent, so it was hard to mind, but the film is altogether cleverer and more interesting than that.  In the third act the film inverts your expectations of one key character not once but twice, throwing a different light than I expected on both that character and the events that took place in the empty flat.  I wouldn't want to give anything away, but I'll be surprised if anyone guesses the twists and turns of this one ahead of time.

The supernatural horror may play largely in the background of what, for the best part of an hour, functions more as a social drama, but when it arrives it is highly effective.  The empty flat itself has a high creep factor as Carmen ventures in to investigate and the sequence when she's trapped in the room next to Tommy's is eerie and has a couple of hugely effective shock moments.  The last of the film's horror sequences bows a little more to convention, but it pays off anyway because of the hard work put in to the characters and relationships early on, and allows for two very powerful emotional payoffs, closing the film on a moment that is both frightening and deeply sad.

This is an extremely impressive d├ębut for Oliver Frampton; a chilly and intelligent piece of contemporary British horror that played against my expectations of a sub-genre that has become beyond hackneyed.  I hope that a distributor will pick it up and give it the spotlight it deserves.

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