Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Plague (2005) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
The poster for The Plague presents us with a confrontation between a black youth and a policeman, an instant identification of urban crisis, yet it is the sense of comradeship and community amongst its characters which really makes this film stand out. Loosely following the lives of four youths making their way through a world where drugs and petty crime are the norm, this skillfully constructed tragedy reconstructs the experiences of an entire culture.
Greg Hall's debut feature, based on his own experiences growing up in London, expands on the lives of characters from his short The Front and introduces us to their friends and relatives. As everybody speaks at once it takes a while to figure out who's who, but strong characters emerge as the story develops. Hall's naturalistic approach is disorientating and sometimes frustrating, but contributes to the sense of immediacy which carries the viewer along. These are kids with little hope for the future living in a continual present. Their naivete and vulnerability is painfully clear from the start, as is the fate likely to await them. By standing back and refraining from judgement, Hall enables viewers to get to know them and their world and to appreciate the futility of their actions without undermining their motivation. This is total immersion film-making reminiscent of Richard Lowenstein or early Spike Lee. With powerful, raw performances from the young cast it tells a human story which crosses the boundaries of the culture within which it is set.
It's rare for a director's music video experience to contribute positively to feature film work, but The Plague is an exception. Hall's inventive camerawork brings to life the vibrancy of the boys' social world, underscored by a cutting edge hip-hop soundtrack featuring Skinnyman and DJ Flip. His love of close-ups adds to the sense of intimacy whilst reinforcing the limits of their environment. Low lighting sometimes makes it hard to tell what's going on, but this becomes less of a problem as it falls into sync with the boys' own experiences.
If the film has a major weakness it is its treatment of the police, who, as outsiders, are presented in a manner unnecessarily brittle and cartoonish. This unfortunately reduces the emotional impact of one of the concluding scenes. By contrast, the emotional collapse of the father of one of the boys is beautifully handled, showing the complexity of his conflicting feelings whilst making it amply clear that his children have no idea what he's going through. It is these vignettes which give he film its real strength.
As a low budget film with a largely black cast, The Plague will probably struggle to make it big at the box office, but it's a real gem, passionate and perceptive, packed with unexpected humour, building towards a devastating conclusion. See it while you have the chance.Reviewed on: 01 Oct 2006