This BAFTA nominated feature debut is a genuinely offbeat, lo-fi sleeper hit. Produced on a shoestring budget with a community theatre double act, a moustachioed Jason Isaacs and Danish Dogme actress Paprika Steen, Skeletons proves that former TV actor Nick Whitfield is a barebones British filmmaker with a bright future.
Andrew Buckley and Ed Gaughan play called Bennett and Davis, two downtrodden thirty somethings working in an exorcism company called Veridical. Dressed in their best funeral suits and carrying two old leather briefcases, they meander across Britain exhuming the proverbial skeletons in the closet’s of couples and families wanting to be rid of any secrets or mysteries that haunt them. Changing into workman’s aprons and yielding old-fashioned looking telekinetic devices, the pair literally step into the memories of those they seek to help.
Skeletons really starts out as a quirky take on the Laurel & Hardy buddy-comedy. Bennett is the large, fumbling one of dynamic duo, but ultimately the more loveable character who can’t help but get emotionally attached to their distressed clients. Davis is the more lugubrious of the pair, wanting to get the job done as quickly as possible. More naturally gifted for the job, Davis threatens their work and relationship by using his own telekinetic powers to “glow chase”, which sees him drawing blackened comfort from visiting his own uncomfortable memories through lucid dreams.
Yet Skeletons gradually elevates to heartfelt poignancy when there gruff boss-cum-paternal figure simply known as “The Colonel” (Isaacs) sends them to meet distressed mother Jane (Steen). She has spent years trying to find her missing husband, with her daughter (Tuppence Middleton) turned mute by trauma. From here, Whitfield really runs riot with a twisty story that is as confusing for the audience as it is for the characters’ on screen (Davis spends the whole film perplexed, abruptly shouting ‘WHAT?’ once in almost every scene).
With the droll tone of Kaufman’s Being John Malkovich present, Skeletons also recalls old detective shows like Columbo, the hazy surrealism of David Lynch, and corny eighties horror movies like The Evil Dead. But where it differs–and, what ultimately makes Skeletons so enjoyable–is the unlikely rural England setting and the two unlikely, Cornish “truth detectives” at it’s centre. A bewildering film which eventually drowns in it’s difficult plot, but like Edgar Wright, Ben Wheatley, and Son of Rambow‘s Garth Jennings, Whitfield embraces his influences to assemble something unique, quintessentially British and utterly compelling.
You can stream Skeletons right now over at The Guardian website.