Fyzal Boulifa is a young British director of Moroccan heritage who was Bafta-nominated for his short film The Curse and now makes his fiercely impressive feature debut with Lynn + Lucy, a gruelling social-realist tragedy with a batsqueak of horror, set on a tough Essex estate that Boulifa says is not so very different from where he was brought up in Leicester.
It’s a film about class, community, self-esteem and female friendship and how desperate unhappiness can be incubated in secret, like bacilli in an unseen petri dish. Lynn + Lucy is Loachian in its way (Ken Loach’s company Sixteen Films is a co-producer) and is also indebted to a later generation of film-makers; it feels like Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, her verbatim cinema experiment set on Bradford’s Buttershaw estate, and there is also the almost dream-like passion of early Lynne Ramsay pictures like Morvern Callar or Ratcatcher.
Boulifa has cast the non-professional newcomer Roxanne Scrimshaw as Lynn, and she is excellent as a young working-class woman who married her first boyfriend, had a baby at 16 and was entirely content with the decisions she made early in life – virtually in childhood – and never seriously considered since. But now she has great pressures with a tricky teenage daughter and a morose husband invalided out of the army who spends his days loafing around watching TV and listlessly brooding over “open marriage” dating sites.
Yet the key reason that Lynn is basically happy – even blissful – is that she lives opposite her best mate from school: the more mercurial Lucy, played by Nichola Burley. In every sense that matters, Lucy is the love of Lynn’s life and Lynn was almost unreasonably thrilled when Lucy recently settled down with a (younger) man and had a baby. Now Lynn and Lucy are united for ever in wifehood and motherhood and Lynn has even pressured Lucy into getting her child christened, purely so she can be the godmother. For Lynn, the new parallel in their lives means joy; for Lucy, it means growing panic.
Boulifa, Scrimshaw and Burley show how this new baby has caused an ominous change in Lucy and an equally ominous change in the delicate dynamic of her friendship with Lynn. Lucy used to be the glamorous one, the wild-child. Now she has to stay at home with the beginnings of post-natal depression and a baby that everyone except her seems to adore. Meanwhile, Lynn has to seek work and, humiliatingly, this means taking a school-leaver’s sweeper-up job at a hairdresser run by the glamorous and aspirational Janelle (Jennifer Lee Moon), a frenemy from school, who remembers – or thinks she does – being bullied by Lynn and Lucy in those days. Despite calling Lynn “babes”, she relishes the feeling of lording it over her, and the film begins to signal something chillingly Goldingesque. They are all still at school, ready to carry on grudges, but with adult force.
Work, marriage, motherhood and friendship: the film shows how these four things, which Lynn and Lucy have been encouraged to believe are the four pillars of happiness, or at any rate the necessities of life, are the terrible, tragically poisonous ingredients of a nightmare. Lucy becomes more discontented with her existence as it now appears to resemble that of her friend, and as she realises that she does not fit the mould of wife and mother in the way that Lynn does – and that she is not plausible as what society considers an adult. Worse, she is facing an increasingly toxic and abusive situation at home.
A spasm of pure horror approaches: partially witnessed and partially understood by Lynn, who wants to reach out to her friend, wants to give her some empathy, especially given the misogyny Lucy faces from many on the estate. But Lynn, along with her daughter, suspects that her gestures of support are futile and that there are grim new life-choices to be made. This film left me with that residue or shimmer of anxiety usually generated by really effective horror movies. It’s a potent tale of dread, reinforced by great performances from Scrimshaw and Burley.
• Lynn + Lucy is available on digital platforms from 2 July.
Source: The Guardian