If one of the jobs of a filmmaker is to present us with something we haven’t seen before, then it’s mission accomplished for writer, director and actor Steve Oram (who penned and starred in Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers). His new film is a startling amalgam of black comedy, sex and violence – if you can imagine a soap opera with scenes directed by David Lynch and John Waters, you’re somewhere near Aaaaaaaah!’s hypnotic and very strange brew.
Like any soap opera, Aaaaaaaah! takes in love, infidelity and betrayal – it’s a quintessentially British melodrama, and largely takes place in and around the kind of pleasant terraced house you’d find in any UK city. A housewife, Barbara (former 80s pop sensation Toyah Wilcox) has separated from her husband (played by The Mighty Bush’s Julian Barratt) and has welcomed her new lover, Ryan (Julian Rhind-Tutt) into her home. During a wild party, a man named Smith (Steve Oram) shows up and quickly sweeps Barbara’s daughter (Lucy Honigman) off her feet. It’s a relationship which threatens to rekindle old rivalries.
Aaaaaaaaah! is distinguished from other kitchen sink dramas by one glaring detail: its entire cast talk and act like apes. Sure, Barbara and Ryan live in a normal house with a big television and a squashy sofa, but they also happen converse in grunts and shrieks, and also have a habit of relieving themselves in the most unsavoury of places. Away from the core story, there are occasional asides, such as the one where Barbara’s daughter and her best friend Helen (Holli Dempsey) are caught shoplifting by Noel Fielding’s leering proprietor.
Shot in 4:3 on grainy digital cameras, Aaaaaaaah! has an almost indescribably voyeuristic, unseemly quality; while it isn’t a found footage film, it still feels like something dredged up from an old VHS tape, perhaps found gathering dust in a bin or down a local rubbish dump. Note that this isn’t a criticism, however; there’s something strangely refreshing about the film’s preoccupation with al fresco nudity, spontaneous sex acts and bodily excretions.
These preoccupations will also likely put some viewers off. But Oram’s movie doesn’t seem to have been made with mere shock value in mind; its scenes of grunting men playing dreadful-looking videogames, or watching inane TV cooking shows, seem like a pointed satire of our technologically advanced but increasingly sedentary modern landscape. These moments also suggest that, even though we surround ourselves with fancy gadgets and wear elaborately-sewn clothes, we’re all still animals at our core.
The barely-domesticated apes in Aaaaaaah! offer up a distorted mirror to our own everyday interactions. Sure, the incidents depicted here are more extreme and unashamedly bestial than the ones we encounter in our everyday lives, but its assorted arguments, jealousies, fights and drunken behaviours are all the kinds of things that are occurring all the time in the real world. That the mirror image is so grotesquely distorted is what makes Aaaaaaaah! so darkly funny in its very best moments.
Clearly made on a low budget, Aaaaaaaah!‘s rough edges and scatological humour make it a niche film even by British indie standards, and it isn’t necessarily the kind of film you’d return to for repeat viewings. But Aaaaaaaah!’s caustic edge is also what makes it unique; Oram’s film really does show you things you’ve never seen before, from Toyah Wilcox despoiling her own kitchen to Julian Barratt caressing a Battenberg cake in a dank back garden. Aaaaaaaah! isn’t always easy viewing – and its title is a chore to type – but it’s nevertheless one of the most unusual, blackly comic and ultimately disturbing British films in years. Just don’t watch it after you’ve had your dinner…
Aaaaaaaah! is out now in selected UK cinemas.
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