Skeletons review

Mark checks out the supernatural indie flick Skeletons, and finds a film that could be a British answer to Inception…

Earlier in the year, I reported back on Toy Story 3 from the UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I was too skint to fork out for more than one night’s accommodation and so missed out on some of the other great films showing at the festival.

This leaves me scrambling through the rest of 2010 to catch up with The Illusionist, The People Vs George Lucas and Jackboots On Whitehall. Another film I missed, Skeletons, went on to win the Michael Powell Award for Best New British Film, so I definitely had to seek it out once its limited release in cinemas nationwide finally arrived.

I knew a little about it before going in, but found my attention diverted by two things I hadn’t anticipated. Firstly, that one of its players, Andrew Buckley, could feasibly be me in twenty years’ time, if appearance is anything to go by. So, that was distracting, but secondly, I saw this almost as Britain’s answer to Inception.

Skeletons is all about Davis and Bennett, who are exorcists of an unusual sort. The skeletons of the title are basically ‘skeletons in the closet’, and our heroes specialise in exhuming the nasty secrets and memories of their clients.

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The clientele are usually betrothed couples looking to share all of their secrets with each other before embarking upon a life together, and the pair are assigned to delve into various people’s minds across the English countryside by the moustachioed Colonel.

So, like Inception, we find the pair as they’re assigned their biggest job, in this case, solving the mystery of a missing father who’s been gone for seven years, presumed dead. Furthermore, the job is put at risk by the brains of the operation, Davis, delving into his own memories and spending quality time with his personal demons.

Yeah, I know Christopher Nolan is British anyway, but the comparison is intended to be a compliment. We’re basically looking at Inception with fewer CG effects, but with more of a sense of humour about itself.

There’s a hint of the same sense of emotional baggage that comes with traversing the mindscapes of others, but more notably, Skeletons has a remarkable quirkiness that just makes it very watchable.

One of the offbeat choices that interested me was in how Davis and Bennett get around the countryside. Namely, they walk. Although Jason Isaacs pops up every now and then as The Colonel to suggest that there is a wider organisation involved in skeleton clearing, there’s no company car. No Mystery Machine or Torchwood SUV or ECTO-1. Just two men walking across country to carry out their strange line of work.

They catch a train to the big job, almost to attribute the sense of a huge opportunity to it, but the walking around middle England really conveys how isolated they are, whether there are other people in their occupation or not. There are also terrific performances by Ed Gaughan as Davis and Andrew Buckley as Bennett, the brains and the heart of the operation, respectively.

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It’s also worth mentioning Tuppence Middleton’s performance, because I saw her a year ago in British teen slasher flick Tormented, liked her, and then promptly forgot about her. I blame that film, not the actress. She’s more striking here in a soft spoken role as the daughter of the missing man, who might just know more than she’s telling our protagonists.

Nick Whitfield’s script deals more in memories than in dreams, and his direction captures the milky and sometimes hazy properties of the memory through cinematography rather than the visual spectacle of the blockbuster counterpart that’s still playing in more cinemas than this. His efforts, together with the great cast, make Skeletons a marvellous supernatural drama that I’m glad I hunted down.

It’s very leisurely in pace and execution, but it’s not complacent. It gives us characters to latch onto, a strong story to follow, and Jason Isaacs stealing every scene he’s in, as ever. It really rewards the effort you make to catch it in cinemas by maximising the entertainment value of what’s an apparently modest effort.

It’s funny and clever and poignant, but because it’s not really multiplex fare, it’s almost been buried in the closet by its scant UK cinema distribution, like so many secrets in the film itself.

But, sooner or later, Skeletons will be out on DVD for everyone to enjoy, so when that day comes, make sure you go and dig it out.

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4 out of 5