After 8 years of self-imposed exile living off-grid on a secluded beach, Rose returns to the dysfunctional bosom of her fucked up family to hold them to account for past misdemeanors. Shadowed by a masked machete-wielding familiar she sets about terrorising a fractured household wallowing in the misery of festering secrets.
Director Peter Blach’s impeccably constructed existentialist drama is one of the most invigorating gems to emerge from this year’s recovering festival circuit. Reeking of poisonous pathos it coerces us to swim in its caliginous waters before dragging us under the surface in the icy grip of dark undercurrents.
A genetically twisted descendant of the British ‘New Wave’ of social realism this marvelous little film is a simmering micro pot of emotional inertia, co-dependant alcoholism, and bitter retribution. A movie so anchored by its classic cinematic roots that at times I found myself longing for a black and white aesthetic. That being said, Rami Bartholdy’s bracing cinematography complements the mood of the piece perfectly, without overwhelming its delicate tempo.
Shot entirely in Blach’s native Folkestone, his sharp eye for location scouting makes equally erudite use of its coastal majesty and intimate community flavour. As a consequence, the world-building is organically gripping and cements a credible foundation for the naturalistic acting to build upon.
The cast makes full use of this opportunity turning in finely nuanced character portraits that are disturbingly augmented in their homespun authenticity and pragmatic intensity.
Adam Radcliffe is particularly fascinating as Roses’ troubled father Geoff. It is a quietly triumphant depiction of a man who is desperately trying to refix a slowly slipping mask of altruism and preserve the fragile facade of a devastating secret.
Also excellent is Jessica Hynes,(Spaced, Shaun of the Dead), as his world-weary wife Janet. A physically and mentally broken woman, anaesthetising the herd of elephants in the room with daily doses of cheap wine.
Originally, the screenplay contained aspects of drollery that were jettisoned during the editing process as the film became almost self-aware and asserted its own identity. However, faint traces of their refrains linger that result in a quirky charm that better suits the tone of the film than distracting gallows humour.
At one point Rose, the titular Seagull, literally shits on the roof of her father’s car. Yet, because the movie dictated its own creative agenda, and Blach was smart enough to obey, the act resonates as sinister and foreboding rather than a simplistic scatological metaphor.
As the narrative layers are slowly peeled away through character interaction and lurid flashbacks, Seagull sustains a level of mystery and enthrallment rarely seen in projects of such meager resources and subtle psychological minimalism. Languid and methodical it may be, but dull and derivative it certainly is not.
It’s a strangely addictive experience, driven by low-key reveals, relatable protagonists, and a hardcore reliance on audience intelligence that engenders empathetic investment.
Seagull seems to have matured on the shelf since it was finished in 2019, determined to wait out the menace of COVID. The filmmakers wanted their baby to be born into a relatively normal existence and its treatment of topics such as immigration blaming, personal isolation, and toxic masculinity have only increased in social pungency.
It’s an understated revenge flick of sedate power and anxious grace that regenerates the Kitchen-sink eidos with a calm confidence that rejects cheap sensationalism and lazy tropes.
Supernatural Revenge, Folk Horror, Relationship Drama | UK, 2019 | 84 mins | Cert. 15 | Dir. Peter Blach | With: Gabrielle Sheppard, Adam Radcliffe, Jessica Hynes, Miranda Beinart-Smith, Rosie Steel, Paul Forman
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