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There’s no point in a fictional family reunion where long-buried resentments don’t painfully but cathartically resurface – and maybe no point in such a family reunion in real life, either. Dictynna Hood’s flawed, interesting low-budget indie is a vehemently performed, slightly Shakespearean drama, set over a few days in a Dartmoor farmhouse – the title appears to be about the area’s standing stones, though there are reminiscences of a shivery childhood visit to Stonehenge.
Here, ageing matriarch and former hippy Marianne (Anna Calder-Marshall) and her testy husband Richard (Oliver Cotton) have summoned the extended clan for Marianne’s birthday because she is very ill, and possibly even dying. (“Here’s to the remission of sins and cancer!” runs one toast over the fractious dinner.)
This movie might gain some attention because its star, playing the couple’s son Owen, is no less important a figure in British public life than Laurence Fox, and filming this could have been his last straight acting gig before he tasted the crack cocaine of “alt-right” celebrity. But let the record show that he gives a thoughtful, intelligent and extremely capable performance. Owen’s relationship with his Lebanese partner Carrie (Raia Haidar) is extremely troubled, and he hates his roguish uncle Jack (Greg Hicks) who has brought along his new, younger partner and baby. What terrible thing has Jack done?
Hood has an intriguing visual technique in this movie of using old photos and Super-8 footage as sudden flashback-glimpses which are triggered in the drama – but also using “new” photos of what is happening now, perhaps to show that these moments themselves are destined to become memories: it is a kind of distancing effect, an “essay drama” rhetoric.
However, another distancing effect is a bit less effective and rather odd. The baby in the story is often openly shown to be a doll, a fake. And sometimes the outbreaks of temper and emotion are a little contrived. Yet this is a fluent and distinctive, and heartfelt, piece of work with a strong sense of place.
• Us Among the Stones is on YouTube until 18 December.
Source: The Guardian
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