A dark and not entirely successful British indie about the psychological effects of loneliness.
This regulation slab of Brit art film miserablism equates gaunt faces and zero recourse to make-up as an easy form of cinematic truthtelling. Scott Graham’s wind-damaged chamber drama focuses on Chloe Pirrie’s ironically named petrol-pump attendant Shell whose desolate station is dotted on a sleepy Highland A-road. The custom they receive is sparse, but grateful.
She lives alone with monosyllabic, melancholic mechanic Pete (Joseph Mawle), a man she claims is her father, though it’s clear from the off that their relationship is far more complex than that. There are a couple of regular customers, one being a touchy-feely divorcee (Michael Smiley) who passes by en route to his designated fathering duties and clearly holds a torch for Shell.
There’s also a younger rebel who works at a nearby factory and often tries to coax her away from the station, but to no avail. The film plays out as a glassy, wannabe impenetrable mood piece which meshes together intense glares and awkward silences as a precursor to an inevitable third-act reveal.
But while it all looks, sounds and feels like it’s been constructed with laudable care and attention, and newcomer Pirrie makes for a suitably magnetic lead, it’s a film that offers little in the way of surprise. It possibly, maybe has some minor value as a film about male domination and female submission, or as a cautionary tale about how we should perhaps suspect the worst from people who deliberately annex themselves from society.
But the film’s militant dedication to Subtlety! makes it feel stifling and unnatural, and while the uncomfortable stand-offs work on their own terms, they do not add up to a particularly convincing or humane portrait of human misery. It’s a bit like Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse only with the nihilistic metaphorical depths replaced by grim and tawdry soap opera. Plus, the climactic twist is a real bust.
A British arthouse movie? Don’t get too many of them.
Admirable rather than enjoyable.
A decent effort and director Scott Graham is one to watch, but this is far from a fully formed drama.