Sky Peals


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Sky Peals
"An unusually intimate, exploratory film underscored by dry humour, Sky Peals has an atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else." | Photo: Lisa Stonehouse, © Escape Films

Have you ever stopped off at a service station when travelling on a night bus? If you’re sitting far enough back that you can’t see the lights on the road, so that the vehicle feels as if it’s drifting through total darkness, they emerge out of the night as glowing islands. They’re magical places where you can find all the basic things that you need, where tired strangers converse sympathetically, knowing that they’ll never see each other again. Then you’re gone.

Who inhabits these strange, liminal worlds? What is it like to live in a place where everybody else is merely passing through? Adam (Faraz Ayub) might be the perfect citizen of the titular Sky Peals. He has been adrift all his life. His father left when he was little. Though it’s never mentioned directly, he must have encountered difficulties sometimes, growing up as a brown skinned boy with a white mother in a white majority country. He has some connections to the Muslim community, knows where to go when he learns that his father, who had been trying to reconnect with him, has passed away, but his ignorance of basic rules makes it clear that he was never been inside a mosque before. Despite the warmth and support that he finds there, he soon drifts away again, lost in his own anxieties, unsure how to connect to anybody.

Small and remote as it is, Sky Peals has developed a supportive community of its own. Some people are unpleasant – tired and irritable – but Adam frequently encounters friendly gestures and people trying to reach out to him. His manager (the always wonderful Steve Oram) sees him as a rare talent and is determined to help him achieve his potential. His colleague Tara (Natalie Gavin) offers sympathy, friendship and the possibility of romance. But Adam doesn’t know how to let anyone in. He’s a man whom things happen to, seemingly bereft of agency, doing the bare essentials as his life collapses around him. When he learns a secret about his father, he begins to reflect on all this in a new way. Perhaps there’s a reason why he feels different from everyone around him. If he could connect with his father, even after his death, could he begin to understand himself?

There’s a lot of dark comedy in Moin Hussain’s film, as it explores the absurdities that arise when people try to communicate or assess one another across such a gulf of perception. We never really know why Adam is so different, though there’s a suggestion that he might have inherited it from his father, and it might be connected to the failure of his parents’ relationship. It could be neurodivergence, or mental illness, or something far stranger. By night, the service station looks like a spaceship, and Hussain uses the visual language of Seventies science fiction to invite us to wonder.

Much of the film is seen from Adam’s perspective. It’s shot on celluloid, giving it a beautiful depth of colour, and its shifts of focus quickly let us know that what stands out to him, in any given situation, is not necessarily what would stand out to other people. His manager recognises this as valuable, despite the fact that it causes obvious difficulties when it comes to interacting with others. As one watches, it’s easy to slide into the rhythm of Adam’s thoughts, to move at his slower pace, which in turn highlights the commonplace absurdities of other people’s frantic behaviour.

Whatever the reason from Adam’s difference, it seems to be exacerbated by grief. Increasingly obsessed with his father’s last movements, captured on camera during a visit to Sky Peals, he experiences disconcerting episodes expressed as a rapid collage of images and shifting light, following which he has no idea what has just happened, sometimes finding himself in unexpected places. it seems to pose a question. What does he want to be? Should he left himself drift away in pursuit of a new way of being, or is there something in day to day life worth holding on to?

An unusually intimate, exploratory film underscored by dry humour, Sky Peals has an atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else. Ayub’s performance is extraordinary. Cinematic experiences like this are few and far between, and if you’re willing to immerse yourself in something different, you shouldn’t miss it.

Reviewed on: 31 May 2024
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Sky Peals packshot
A lonely man starts to piece together the story of his estranged father after his death and discovers the older man didn't believe he was human.

Director: Moin Hussain

Writer: Moin Hussain

Starring: Faraz Ayub, Natalie Gavin, Claire Rushbrook, Simon Nagra, Steve Oram, Jeff Mirza, Bill Fellows, Adrian Hood, Maizie Wickson, Alan Cammish, Teresa Mondol, Junaid Arshad, Christian Foster, Vicki Hackett, Lynne Payne

Year: 2023

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: UK

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