Malice In Wonderland

Malice In Wonderland

***

Reviewed by: James Gracey

Simon Fellows’ loose adaptation/update of Alice In Wonderland is a frenetic, highly charged and stylishly shot bombardment of visual stimuli. We accompany a heavily concussed and doped up Alice (Maggie Grace) as she trawls through a weirdly neon and candy-coloured night-time world populated by cockney gangsters, sinister drug dealers and psychotic pimps and vagrants as she searches for her mother and tries to evade her increasingly threatening father.

Along the way Alice encounters a rag-tag assortment of freakish characters, all loosely modelled on characters from Lewis Carroll’s original story. Nathaniel Parker and Bronagh Gallagher stand out as Harry Hunt (The Red Queen) and Hattie (the Mad Hatter) respectively, and deliver deliriously deranged performances. Maggie Grace and Danny Dyer (Whitey) are fine, though neither really exhibit much spark or chemistry with each other or the material.

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There are many visual and verbal references to Lewis Carroll’s text as Alice pops pills with wild abandon and the effects of her newly warped perspective manifests itself on screen as garish and weirdly hallucinatory visuals. Fellows exhibits a knack for churning out music-video aesthetics and the word play between characters is often quite amusing and appropriately perplexing. At times, the humour verges on something akin to that of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film – particularly evident in the bizarre exchanges between Dyer and Pam Ferris’ Duchess, an exaggerated and unhinged agoraphobic who communicates with the outside world via a kaleidoscope of security cameras. At other times the brash humour just doesn’t work, as evidenced in a ridiculous scene in which Alice hijacks a lorry full of hookers.

The narrative is often lost in a swirling mess of grotesquery and carnivalesque atmosphere, as lurid lighting and frenzied editing hold events in a startling grip. When proceedings become more focused in the third act, events then become diluted in cod sentimentality that doesn’t really fit well with the film’s off-kilter and deranged tone. We also get something that resembles a feeble attempt at social commentary by way of a vague, last-minute reference to human trafficking.

The film remains strangely detached, however, and somehow lacks a hook to pull the audience into the red-lit story or care much about the caricatures who inhabit it. Whilst we do have an appealing heroine suffering from amnesia who also appears to be in grave danger, the film lacks any sort of immediacy or tension until the third reel. The off-kilter predicaments at times feel like increasingly disconnected sketches and the narrative, for the most part, just wanders along as wide-eyed and disorientated as Alice herself. Of course, if this is all meant to be a continuation of Alice’s skewed logic and ever-warped perspective, then the film succeeds admirably.

Malice In Wonderland is a vibrant and technically accomplished film that effectively conjures a weird and hallucinogenic nightmare world. Whilst not particularly moving, it provides welcome respite and a darkly quirky alternative to Tim Burton’s overblown and underwhelming film.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2010
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Lewis Carrol's Alice gets a gangster makeover.
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