The Pitch: If there’s something strange, in your neighbourhood memories, who ya gonna call…? (The ginger one off Extras and some bloke with a thin moustache, apparently.)
The Review: There feels something particular about being British. If you’ve ever seen the British episodes of shows like Friends or The Simpsons, you’ll have a pretty good idea what other people think we’re all about; all Union Jacks and stiff upper lips. But to me, there’s always felt something more of the Monty Python about being British; there’s an eccentricity that bubbles under in our culture, and sometimes that strangeness gets let off the leash and allowed to explore, which is what Nick Whitfield has done in this expansion of an earlier short film.
There’s always a risk in taking a short film idea and stretching it up to an hour and half, but thankfully there’s enough here to give a solid three act narrative so that the plot can flow and breathe. Ed Gaughan and Andrew Buckley are the unconventional memory trippers, going about their business with a complete and total investment in what they’re doing. Keeping them on track is the only big name in the cast – Jason Isaacs gets his moustache on again for The Colonel, and although on the surface he is most like the British archetype I alluded to earlier, all stiff-lipped reserve and gruffness, he isn’t afraid to take the character to the same strange places as the rest of the cast.
The process which Bennett and Davis (Buckley and Gaughan) go through to undertake their investigations is constructed of fine details, so that you never really see the whole; that’s probably for the best, as what they’re doing only makes sense within the confines of its own, equally bizarre, rules. There’s a whole vocabulary to the film in terms of style, action and language which only really makes sense as the movie progresses. But it’s the fine details that are the most enjoyable and that really resonate. Using this attention to detail, Skeletons starts as an out and out comedy, but then works in more elements of drama along the way – it’s a fine balance, but one that Whitfield manages very well both as writer and director. He’s helped by a cast that has some real standouts – as well as the investigators, Tuppence Middleton does wonders with a silent role as the daughter of the family at the plot’s core.
Overall, this resolutely odd, deliberately unconventional movie manages to have a heart in among its strangeness. The only slight reservation is that, while the plot comes to a conclusion which is both narratively and emotionally satisfying, the last few scenes linger slightly longer than they could have done, so maybe if Whitfield gets the bigger budget that his talent deserves, it will allow for a little more time in the editing room, although this is proof positive of what you can achieve with limited resources. The score is also slightly overstated in places, but these are small quibbles and shouldn’t detract from the whole experience. For a true British original, look no further.
Why see it at the cinema: Partly to reassure yourself that you’re not completely mad and other people are finding this funny too, but mainly because without your support, movies like this will stop getting released, then they’ll stop getting made. That day will be a bad one if and when it comes – so don’t let it happen.
The Score: 8/10