Director Michael Winterbottom never seems to stray too far from controversy - from the racial flak he received for his decision to cast Angelina Jolie in the part of Afro-Cuban Mariane Pearl in A Mighty Heart, to the sexual storm that blew up over 9 Songs. His desire to be provocative is no new thing as this, his debut big screen feature, amply demonstrates, with its content including lesbian sex, extreme bondage, a scene bordering on rape (made even more disturbing by the presence of Ricky Tomlinson) and some brutal violence.

The action centres on Eunice - Amanda Plummer taking one of her many walks on the wild side. We meet her as she wanders the side of an A road muttering: "Look who it is. It's me," as traffic whizzes past her. She might not look like it, but at heart she is a hunter - a killer who quizzes clerks in petrol stations. They quickly find that the wrong answer to the question: "You're Judith, aren't you?" has deadly consequences. Eunice may be unhinged but she is also complex and, when a chance enounter with nice-but-dim petrol cashier Miriam leads to Eunice dousing herself with petrol, it marks the start of an odd-couple relationship to end all odd couples.

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On the one hand is Eunice's madness and on the other Miriam's inability to comprehend it. Even Miriam's reaction to seeing Eunice strip off to reveal she is swathed in chains and piercings is one of an ingenue. "She had 17 tattoos," says Miriam, in one of the many monochrome police interview 'flash-forwards' which pepper the narrative. "They all had a meaning but I liked the shapes."

Miriam falls for Eunice harder and faster than a murderer's axe and soon finds herself the 'clean up' guy in a sort of sinister Thelma And Louise style journey, as Eunice cuts a swathe through the Midlands and beyond.

Everything about Winterbottom's film is dislocated. There is no real sense of place - almost all the action takes place on anonymous roads and in petrol forecourts or service stations - and Plummer's accent, whether by accident or design, is from nowhere specific, coming across as an odd hybrid of Mancunian and Irish that only serves to thrust her further into the realm of weirdness. The editing in the opening segment is also deliberately choppy and the sound hard, initially, to make out, creating a real sense of tension from the outset, while later scenes on beaches serve to emphasise the insignificance of the characters against their backdrop. Even the central relationship is spiky, yet no less compelling for that.

There is a world of possible interpretation lurking beneath the surface of Frank Cottrell Boyce's script, which is as disorientating as the scenario the characters find themselves in. Biblical connotations prevail. Both Miriam and Judith are connected to the Law of Moses (including the 10 commandments) and Eunice frequently talks of "punishment". Yet, it is also possible to view Eu and Mi as two halves of a split-personality or even, in you-me combination, as representing a sort of 'everyman' type - showing how easy it is for anyone to take the path to bad things. "I'll make you evil before you make me good," Eu tells Mi.

The problem, as with many feature debuts, is the film's lack of moderation. There are too many sorts of breadcrumbs scattered here for any clear trail to be easily come upon, as though Winterbottom and Boyce are themselves unsure of the direction they really want to take. Redemption for these failings comes in the form of Plummer - with her Tilda Swinton-like quiet intensity - and, particularly, Saskia Reeves, who makes Mi utterly believable in her naivety. While by no means a perfect film, it is a memorable one that bears up to repeat viewings.

Reviewed on: 12 Sep 2009
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A petrol station cashier falls for a serial killer.
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Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writer: Frank Cottrell Boyce, Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Amanda Plummer, Kathy Jamieson, Saskia Reeves, Des McAleer, Lisa Riley, Freda Dowie, Paula Tilbrook, Fine Time Fontayne, Elizabeth McGrath, Joanne Cook, Shirley Vaughan, Paul Bown, Emily Aston, Ricky Tomlinson, Katy Murphy

Year: 1995

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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Natural Born Killers
Thelma And Louise