White Island


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

White Island
"It is a comic thriller that is not particularly comic nor particularly thrilling."

An ostensibly comic thriller, White Island sets its stall out early with a reference to the consequences of surgery to repair a rectal abscess, a surgical lacuna that which masks a deeper void within the film which is that it is soulless and dead. That posterior stitching is intended to make mock of a hardman of the coke-smuggling London variety, a bullet-headed satin-jacketed Owain Arthur, brother to a tattooed Darren Day, uncle to the glamourous Scarlett Archer, unlucky recipient of close attention at London City airport. The bum wound, you see, is a running joke, or perhaps a hobbling tearing amusement, a comic crutch that results in ambulation that would not benefit from it, a piece of jest that has the ring of desperation and is at the centre of the issue with the film.

The film is based on a novel by Colin Butts called A Bus Could Run You Over. His earlier work, Is Harry On The Boat?, not only bears some responsibility for Danny Dyer (it became a Sky TV series) but offers a window into discussion of issues of consent with reference to sexual acts within a heteronormative non-penetrative dynamic, in that it's apparently rhyming slang for ejaculating on another's face.

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The film fetishises a very particular view of Ibiza, one that borrows the transgressive glamour of drug smuggling and megayachts (though the one we see doesn't look anywhere near 100 feet, never mind over), that cribs from the desperate licentiousness of a very particular post-Colonial legacy where the Redcoats that are coming are burnt and blistered rather than blazered and the fruits of their labours are not realised in controversial college statuary and weirdly bi-located place-names but in sexually transmitted infections and bad television about worse tattoos.

That's all stereotype, of course - lazy and broad-brush and probably contemptible. Billies Boyd and Zane have important roles as does sometime television quiz-show host and London rap-artist Example. Some of the locations are pretty and there's a half-way interesting angle on the corrupting influence of an annual injection of demand, but that is casting about for nice things to say. Lyndon Ogbourne and Joel Donnett do a credible job as mates who have respectively done (and been done in by) and are going to do (and be done in by) the whole Ibiza 'thing', but this seems like an exercise in nostalgia wrapped in the production of a film that seems an excuse for a holiday for those who like that sort of thing. Boyd and Zane have been better elsewhere, and while Gala Gordon is an undoubtedly talented discovery she, like they, seems marooned in these doldrums.

There are some weird touches - possibly budgetary. There were obvious drops in resolution in the version Eye For Film saw, that appeared coincident with what was probably drone footage, and there are a few scenes with aeroplanes including one composited onto a surprisingly dull sky that never had a chance of competing with those in Bonfire Of The Vanities or My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? and, all the more disappointingly, were possibly unnecessary. The music seems to have been an issue. Clearance can be a problem, with dance-music fractally so - even as Zeppelin are pursued over Stairway there are nightmare stacks of unattributed samples lurking in the vinyl vaults. Some just seem off tonally, even for the mileu depicted - someone off by ferry to Ibiza to DJ sticking records in a duffel bag just seems weird - there's a whole generation of club-goers who see the McGuffin in Ronin and think of LPS before ice-skates. That some of those tunes at times recall the bed that plays beneath the bit where a transatlantic infomercial reads out the localised numbers just adds to the dissonance. There's piano at the maudlin bits, a bit of jangly Iberian guitar at the not-London bits, some somewhat creative swearing, some repetitive beats in the clubs, some "lahndahn" gangster off-cut, some same-old, same-old.

I knew someone who regularly attended the Glastonbury festival. Indeed, they once went to the extent of chartering a bus, soliciting monies from the passengers, transporting a coach-load of fellow-travellers to the fields of Eavis and, from some of the numbers I heard bandied, a not unsizeable profit was made. Even more so when it transpired that paying for a ticket was apparently against the true ethos of the event and as such the organiser's intent was to jump the fence and attend for free. I, almost two decades later, still cannot reconcile those, and I am similarly troubled by this film. It is a comic thriller that is not particularly comic nor particularly thrilling. It may be an accurate portrait of Ibiza in that it seems crassly commercial and tailored, albeit ill-fittingly, to tastes that are not my own, but if it does indeed depend on borrowed goodwill from holiday adventures that audiences may not have had, then it's all the weaker for it.

Its crudity and clumsiness do not prevent it from at times amusing, but it withers beneath a critical eye. Carpe Diem is a Balearic pizza restaurant, and this is similarly cheesy and flat. It is undoubtedly possible to go to the White Island and have a nice time, but it seems unlikely that one could see this film and do the same.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2016
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Comic thriller about an ex-DJ who finds himself drawn back into the seedy underworld of Ibiza.


EIFF 2016

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