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'Cuckoos' - An unnerving film with a clever emotional twist (spoilers)

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
9 November 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A middle-aged couple leave for work only to have their home broken into by 16 year old scally Shaun. Shaun stays in the house until the couple returns home, then holds them hostage with a kitchen knife. The couple are terrified and tied up at first but gradually they work out that all Shaun wants is a home and a family that he has never had before. The couple are forced to pander to him, giving him a birthday party and cake, all the time aware that he could snap at anytime.

From the start of this film we are given a very tense mood as Shaun holds all the cards and appear to be mentally unhinged, forcing people to pretend to be a family that he never had. For most of the film we are kept on edge by this because we never know when Shaun is about to lose it or not. The film makes us think that we have it all sorted out in our heads but yet the film doesn't just allow us to rest on our laurels in this regard. I though the story was obvious – a disturbed young man is needy and desperate for a family he never had but doesn't know how to go about getting it. This in itself is interesting and well delivered but it is only made better by the gradual twist delivered towards the end.

In this twist we see that neediness and denial is not the reserve of the disenfranchised or the mentally disturbed. The twist is well delivered because we start to suspect it, then we start to see it and then it is totally revealed. Sarah's hurt and desperation is evident and is actually quite impacting. This dramatic twist is satisfying because it is part of the film – not the conclusion of it in the way many films will use the twist as a final shot at the audience. The acting is very good throughout. At times I thought Hope and Nichols played their characters a bit too natural and relaxed but the twist explains why they did this and it was actually well judged.

Overall this is a very good film that is well worth hunting down. Even though, by reading this review, you know roughly where the film will be going it is still impacting enough to make for repeat viewing – the twist is not the all so it stands up to repeat viewings.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

'The Baader Meinhoff Gang' - Energetic and funny but with a well-written script that looks at ME and alienation

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
9 November 2004

Johnny suffers from ME and is prone to sudden tiredness and depression – even when he looks in good health he can only be a few minutes away from being totally out of it. During a hospital visit he meets Martin, who is in a wheelchair and is angry and aggressive towards everyone else in the world.

A minor scuffle between the two takes Johnny back to Martin's flat where he discovers that his new friend is angry at the world to the point where he is preparing a terrorist strike in his local bank to protest against society's views of those with illnesses.

I have seen several films that have tried to deal with the issue of those suffering from ME or the alienation that those with disabilities feel but I don't think I have seen one that does it with so much energy, humour and foul language as this one. The basic plot doesn't really matter because the whole terrorism thing is just an extreme (and topical) outpouring of the anger that Martin feels. Why Johnny gets as involved as he does is not totally clear but the focus with his character seems to be more about his illness more than just alienation. On a very basic level the film is funny and energetic and it is very enjoyable to watch but I felt that its value was more in the understanding of ME.

We meet Martin when he attacks Johnny for having a 'nonce's' disease that only middle classes suffer from – 'oh look at me, I'm tired all the time' he mocks and in a way the script hits it right on the head because that is what many people think – ME, chronic fatigue? Just moping around more like! Even with my own ex-wife suffering from the condition at one point I still find myself feeling the same way, so to have the well written Johnny reminding me of the realities of sudden tiredness and borderline depressions was interesting and engaging. Of course the film keeps this behind the energy and comedy but it does come through and is a very important part of the film.

With the material to work with, Bremner is very good and seems to have a good understanding of what it is to have ME and is totally convincing all the way through the film. Marsan is just as good but for different reasons as he carries more of the comedy and energy of the piece. His character is simpler too, more of an obvious 'angry at world over condition' thing, but it works well still. Director Haynes makes the digital camera work interesting and doesn't overdo the jerky camera thing; it moves around a lot as you would expect but this adds to the energy of the film and doesn't feel too obtrusive – the use of locations is also impressive and important, making the film feel more expensive than it probably actually was.

Overall this is an enjoyable film that is well worth seeing. On one level it is energetic, funny and very entertaining but on another level it is a well written look at ME that will help you appreciate the condition for what it is even if it won't give you a great understanding of it medically or in the longer term.

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1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

'Only Girls' – well written at the start but goes too far and becomes only about the end rather than the characters

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
4 December 2004

Four girls who are friends at the same boarding school go away together to Vicky's summer home to celebrate her birthday. With a very spoilt upbringing, Vicky starts to pick on her friends and betray the trust that they put in her – normally it is over small things but, when she hurts them deeply, they decide to get their own back on her and plan a cruel trick on her.

Channel 4 in the UK may be responsible for bringing a lot of American imports over and it does sometimes seem like all it does is rerun Friends ad nauseam, but it also does something that other terrestrial channels don't seem to do as easily – encourage talent and promote short films. Its 'Outside' showcase is a big part of this and Coming Up is a prime example as it gives 30 minutes to new directors and writers to tell a story. I am always surprised that Channel 4 takes such a role where really it is the publicly funded BBC that should be taking the risks with stuff like this rather than the commercially driven stations. Anyway, Only Girls starts out as an interesting story of teenage girls that is convincingly well written, but it goes a route that is extreme and it rather spoils what could have been a very good character piece. By going down the 'joke with terrible consequences' road, the film moves away from what had been realistic characters – cruel teenage girls, condescending posh people, needy girls who take little bits of abuse in return for friendship etc. The ending is still interesting enough but I was more interested in the people rather than the specific story of the joke.

The writing in the first half is good in this way and it did paint convincing characters who were pretty well acted out by the cast. Vicky is well played even if she is a little too OTT but I didn't think the 'working class' girl (sorry – can't remember her name) worked that well because she is very timid and insecure at the start but then suddenly has confidence and drive – too much of a sudden character change in the name of the plot. The other two do well as the betrayed friends and all in all they are all good enough to carry the story, not bad considering they are all teenagers.

Overall this is an OK film but it starts better than it ends. I suppose some will prefer an actual story (complete with shocks and good final shot) but for my money it was too extreme and took away from what had started as a solid little character piece with convincing teenage girls. The work done in the first half meant that I was bought in for the second half, but it is hard not to wish it could have stayed inside the characters rather than becoming a sort of one note drama.

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