Reviewed by: Maryam Ghorbankarimi

"The film offers an interesting play on the concept of reality and fiction." | Photo: Courtesy of San Diego Film Festival

Degenarates (2018): a bold and innovative British comedy drama which is Callum Crawford’s début feature film, both as writer/director and an actor. This fresh and low budget film just had its US premier at the San Diego International Film Festival. There are many films that turn their attention to the work put into writing for film or the process of creating characters and writing a screenplay, but few focus on the thin line between reality and fiction. Callum Crawford plays Casey Vaughn, an aspiring scriptwriter who is pushed by his agent to write a script based on a true story. In his search for this, he stumbles across an ongoing investigation looking for a missing teenage girl.

The film has an interesting pace throughout. At first it almost feels as though there is an extra beat at the end of every action and every shot, but as the film progresses this slow pace helps us, the viewers, to take part in the narrative. Many of the one to one conversations are shot with the actors looking directly into the camera, making eye contact with the viewers. Throughout the film we also hear the writer’s narration or the act of thinking aloud and making decisions as he tries new approaches.

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The story unravels like an absurdist play as Casey’s research gets a little too ‘hands on’. After a short interview with the young girl’s mother while impersonating the police detective assigned to the case, he begins to draft the story with the little that he knows of the people in the teenage girl’s life. In search of the main characters for his script, Casey puts together a search squad consisting of three eccentric individuals, the most unlikely group of ‘real’ people: a drug dealer and drug enthusiast pharmacist, Maureen, played beautifully by Annette Badland; a thief and petty criminal, Naomi; and a young boy scout, Peter. Casey, focused only on completing his ‘real story’ screenplay, leads the squad in pursuit of those whom he has discerned are the main suspects.

The film offers an interesting play on the concept of reality and fiction. This distancing and existential treatment of the ‘real’ story by the writer is the strength of the film and gives way to the humour and mystery which result in a tragicomedy effect. The film reads like a first or second draft of a screenplay. The writer might sketch characters into scenes that may and/or may not work as the narrative evolves. Then if the scenes, or even characters, do not appear to fit, the writer would easily abandon them and try something new for the next draft. In this film, for instance, the search squad follows a lead, committing many acts of crime along the way, to find out the truth about the missing teenage girl. Yet once all is revealed, Casey believes the reality lacks energy, so he manipulates the narrative and steers the story, i.e. the group, in a new direction, hoping to achieve a better dramatic effect. This film problematises the question of reality in film and reflects that, in many cases, when the ‘real’ is not interesting enough, the writer is ready to sacrifice everything to make the story work.

Reviewed on: 18 Oct 2018
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Degenerates packshot
A screenwriter recruits a group of eccentric characters to go and find a missing teenage girl, with the intention of turning the search into a true story script.

Director: Callum Crawford

Writer: Callum Crawford

Starring: Annette Badland, Lauren Douglin, James Sanbrook, Callum Crawford, Jamie Foreman

Year: 2018

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: UK


San Diego 2018

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