This review contains spoilers.
2.2. 12 Days Of Christine
This week’s instalment of Inside No. 9’s six standalone mystery plays took a drastically different turn from twisty series 2 opener La Couchette. Also directed by horror director Guillem Morales, The 12 Days of Christine moved from following a group of people in (almost) real time as they deal with a particular set of difficulties and instead introduced one central character as the focus. Here we were invited to spend time with Sheridan Smith’s Christine over the course of 12 important days of her life – a seemingly simple set up that, as to be expected from No. 9, was cunningly deceptive…
Beginning with an establishing shot of a tower block of flats, with the sound of city sirens in the distance, we first meet Christine on New Year’s Eve. Entering flat number 9 with her new fella Adam (Tom Riley) after a fancy dress party, blue-tinged Christmas tree lights blink on and off through the living room. We quickly whizz through Christine’s days, taking in big events including Mother’s Day, her pregnancy, a thirtieth birthday party, her son Jack starting school, until we reach day 12. Christine’s family and close friends enter the narrative as the days tick down, but it’s the recurring appearances of another player (Shearsmith) who’s also somehow important to Christine that turns this character study into something extra special.
How quickly you catch on to what’s going on here, that the 12 days we’re shown is Christine’s life flashing before her eyes after a car crash, shouldn’t determine the episode’s success – not when it’s been put together this lovingly. Christine herself is sympathetic and absorbing (snagging Smith to flesh out Christine’s jumps from single girl, to uncertain motherhood, through to divorce is a masterstroke – we want her to be okay), and her slow realisation of what’s really happening gives this episode its final punch.
All elements of the production give additional subconscious power to the reveal, making the hit even harder when it comes. The sound cue of a fast heartbeat playing over the first scene as it turns into the next, mixed with the dings of a car door left open too long, acts as a soundtrack theme, but also serve as a carefully laid clue. The flashing blue lights that overlay some of Christine’s days; the repetition of the song Time To Say Goodbye; and the toy police car she stumbles over in her living room also hint, while signalling ramifications from her reality – that her consciousness is becoming muddled as parts of the car accident crash through into her memories.
There’s also plenty of misdirection to avoid any cinematic influences to pick through during the course of the story. Shearsmith’s character’s appearances in creepy power cuts, and as a disembodied voice in Jack’s bedroom, seem to set the story up as a traditional haunting (in reality, he’s at the scene of the accident and pulls Jack out of the car), as do the nods to classic horror. Don’t Look Now echoes in the stranger’s rain mac, soaked appearance, and connection to Christine’s feelings of insecurity regarding the safety of her child. Eggs are thrown at walls by someone unseen when she’s in her apartment alone, which (if you link ghostly appearances with egg-related shenanigans) add associations with Dana’s kitchen encounter with the supernatural in Ghostbusters, and Fung is referred to as “The Grudge” twice by other characters. And there’s the ol’ namesake link with Stephen King’s possessed red and white Plymouth Fury Christine, too. If you share a love of horror cinema with the show’s makers, those allusions may have kept you from figuring out the twist for much of the running time.
But clever twists aren’t enough to make a programme genuinely satisfying for an audience; it’s got to have real heart as well as novelty to really stick, and The 12 Days Of Christine pays off emotionally beyond the well-crafted spring. Watching the episode detailing the brain attempting to make sense of death as it shuts down called to mind the death scene of a character in Channel 4’s recent Cucumber, which also trapped the audience inside the mind of someone as they die. What was horrible and disturbing there, is upsetting but ultimately uplifting here as Christine says goodbye. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a tear in my eye…
Read Phoebe-Jane’s review of the previous episode, La Couchette, here.
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