Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The viewer is asked not to gaze awestruck at stunts but to empathise."

Andrew (David Gyasi) is a music journalist taking time out from work as he recovers from mental health problems. He spends a lot of time looking out of the window. Like many people living in tall blocks of flats, he has binoculars, and he has taken to watching the young Chinese woman (Yennis Cheung) who lives in the block across the way. One night he calls in a sex worker, the formidable Amy (Pippa Nixon), who shows his hesitant body a good time; but as she's leaving, she catches sight of a disturbance across the way, of somebody apparently attacking the neighbour. When she refuses to speak to the police and, the next day, the neighbour is nowhere to be seen, Andrew begins to panic.

The references to Rear Window here are obvious, and the set-up has a lot in common with Curtis Hanson's 1987 thriller The Bedroom Window, and with the same essential plot flaw (why doesn't he just tell the police he was with a woman who saw something but won't come forward?), but there's something much darker here, evoking unforgiving British thrillers like Mona Lisa and Eastern Promises. It takes highly skilled work from Gyasi to keep us feeling for this man who might himself have posed a threat to the missing woman, and to have us buy into his obsession to the extent that we accept his determination to find her. His complex performance layers sexual interest with an awareness of the dynamics of privilege, with guilt and a hint of romantic delusion. In his journey into London's underworld he will have his illusions scoured away - and so will many members of the audience.

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The story that follows isn't particularly complex or surprising but the focus of the film is more on character and atmosphere than on plot, and in this regard it works well. Importantly, Andrew never comes across as a conventional genre hero. His desperation and his fear upon finding himself in a violent situation is utterly convincing. The viewer is asked not to gaze awestruck at stunts but to empathise, and this enables the film to pack in the thrills whilst keeping things low key and consistent with the realities of London's gang culture. Nixon works well in support, despite having relatively little screentime, with Amy bringing some perspective to Andrew's excitable quest.

The film takes a refreshingly realistic approach to trafficking, expanding the narrative beyond rape, and the presence of Amy complicates its take on sex work. There is also a slight but welcome reflection on gang politics that helps to provide context. Overall it has a rather old fashioned quality, at odds with the sleek 21st Century trappings of Andrew's day to day life. It's difficult to know how this will go down with viewers, but first time writer/director Sean Spencer has made a solid little film with more character than most of its peers, and it's a great calling card.

Reviewed on: 11 Nov 2016
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A music journalist gets out of his depth when he goes looking for his missing neighbour in London's gangland.
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Director: Sean Spencer

Writer: Sean Spencer

Starring: David Gyasi, Pippa Nixon, Jason Wong, Yennis Cheung, Chi Chan, Cristian Solimeno, Orion Lee, Vera Chok, Brett Allen, Chike Chan, Suni La, Rebecca Yeo, Valene Kane, Choy-Ling Man, Dominic Kinnaird

Year: 2014

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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