Eye For Film >> Movies >> Expensive Shit (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson
Tolu is a toilet attendant in a nightclub. In a space already made complicated by the intersection of race and class, she provides make-up and scents, her reward a few coins in a basket dwarfed by the mass of cloths, lotions, unguents, bodysprays, another different litany of club chemistry.
The dominant feature of the ladies is not the cubicles, nor the tiles, but the mirror that occupies a wall. Tolu knows a secret though, one that will weigh increasingly heavy. There is a room behind that mirror, and people in that room. They are watching those that Tolu attends, and they have wants.
It is hard to credit that this is a directorial debut, so assured a statement that it deservedly won both the jury and audience awards in the 2021 Glasgow Short Film Festival's Scottish Competition. Some of that might be proximity. Though perhaps a relatively recent addition to Glasgow's clubland, toilet attendants are still a noticeable one. More than that, though, in 2013 a Glasgow club was discovered to have a two-way mirror between one of its private function rooms and the ladies toilet. That incident inspired Adura Onashile's 2016 Fringe Festival play, now this stunning short.
Onashile writes, directs, in TV veteran Modupe Adeyeye (stints in Eastenders and Hollyoaks) has found a Tolu whose distress is compelling. In a film that does not dance around the structures of authority and influence, her interactions with 'boss' David (Nebli Basani) and club regular Louise (Kim Allan) have edge, and depth.
Given how important the mirror is there's an easy temptation to metaphor, but this is properly intersectional stuff. There are questions of class, race, and sex, no small measure of fury. It's sound though where there is real triumph, one of the elements of control afforded by film over stage. Re Olunuga's music is often heard through the walls, but when Tolu ventures out William Aikman's sound design helps render it both familiar and alien.
It's a strong work, one with appropriately strong language. The title might be asterisked in this or other versions but the obscenities here are not of language but behaviour. In a festival selection that included a number of feminist works and perspectives this was a standout, one that earned its plaudits. Onashile described herself as "seriously, seriously chuffed" and included her cast and crew among the "massive, massive, massive thank you". The jury referenced how "every single element" served a story of a "vicious cycle of exploitation" that in the current age "[felt] particularly relevant."
What cavils there are come more from the constraints of budget than any failure of imagination. Even then, the balance of 'luxury' is appropriate for a place where everything is surface and smear. The shiny embroidered jacket with its 'Hollywood Sport Fishing Charters' logo is a thing perfect in itself. A detail as apposite as the slightly different refractive index of a bottle of water, conversations about opportunities, a knock on the window, a back scratched, expectations and favours.
There are degrees of complicity here, well handled. Far from just black and white, with (literally) hidden depths, a neon-noir cast to the proceedings sheds light in places light does not often shine. Here it does, triumphantly, in a work that in places might lack polish but never clarity of purpose, or power.Reviewed on: 31 Mar 2021