Father Of Flies

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Father Of Flies
"The confusion of incident and memory add to the sense of creepiness and disorientation which Tetlow’s performance and the heightened visual style create."

The first thing one notices about Father Of Flies is the beguiling way it’s shot, captured well on the poster. It opens in a pink-toned room, soft and womb-like, where a teenage girl and a boy of about nine are passing the time. When the boy wanders over to the window and opens the curtains, idly peering out, the camera pulls back to reveal that they are inside a white house beneath a pale night sky, surrounded by slender trees. This means of establishing the setting recalls any number of classic horror films from the Seventies and Eighties, yet in those we usually start outside the house, often with a family approaching it for the first time. Here the house is already home, but something has happened to it; affected by some exterior force, it doesn’t feel safe any more.

The girl is Donna (Page Ruth), the boy her younger brother Michael (Keaton Tetlow). Their situation is not an enviable one. An early encounter with their mother (Sandra Andreis) who comes around staring through the windows, hammering on the door, makes it clear that she is mentally ill. Having decided that he’s no longer able to cope with her behaviour, their father Richard (Nicholas Tucci, in one of his final roles before passing away from cancer) has separated from her and moved a new woman into their home. It is around this woman, Coral (Camilla Rutherford) that the boy’s fears centre. She’s awkward, different, disturbing. Wearing her Rejuvenique facial massager, she is strikingly reminiscent of the masked, uncertain mother figure in Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy. Is she actually hostile or dangerous? We don’t know, but over the course of the film, we see Michael become more and more afraid, acutely aware of the helplessness that his small size and his father’s unwillingness to listen to him create.

The thing about that journey is that, despite early appearances to the contrary, it doesn’t take place in linear order. The confusion of incident and memory add to the sense of creepiness and disorientation which Tetlow’s performance and the heightened visual style create. The precise era in which it’s set is also a little unclear, though there are a number of stylistic touches which suggest the Eighties, and in one scene Coral dances to the Cure’s Lullaby – a song which one can easily imagine frightening a child. This works well alongside a distinctive, haunting score which has contributions from Will Berger, Gus Collins and Orri Páll Dýrason of Sigur Rós.

Director Ben Charles Edwards’ conjuring up of Eighties aesthetics also inclines horror fans to develop a particular set of expectations and interpret certain shots in line with the films of that era, something which he uses to his advantage both in creating atmosphere and in setting out red herrings. Nothing here is quite as it seems, and there are layers of tragedy to be found beneath the film’s key dramatic events, along with that particular strain of melancholy which comes from a deepening awareness of missed opportunity.

Despite the separation from the children’s mother, or perhaps because of it, Richard seems overwhelmed, escaping by focusing on his other role as a provider, planning a few days away at a conference. Michael feels desperately isolated. Donna is distracted, perhaps deliberately distracting herself, but also floundering as she tries to connect with people her own age who cannot really understand what she’s going through. Coral is the still point in all this, her calmness itself feeling alien to the family dynamic.

Edwards takes old sources of fear – something just outside the door, something under the bed, glaring static on an old cathode ray TV set – and gives them back their power. Unfolding slowly, with a chilling smoothness, the film effortlessly draws viewers in. Part of Raindance 2021, it’s a highly impressive second feature, signalling the arrival of a significant new talent.

Reviewed on: 07 Nov 2021
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Father Of Flies packshot
A vulnerable young boy finds his mother pushed out of the family home by a strange new woman, and he must confront the terrifying supernatural forces that seem to move in with her.

Director: Ben Charles-Edwards

Writer: Ben Charles-Edwards, Nadia Doherty

Starring: Nicholas Tucci, Camilla Rutherford, Davi Santos

Year: 2021

Runtime: 78 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

Festivals:

Grimmfest 2021

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