"The film, at times, suffers from its deliberate awfulness being overdone"Troma Entertainment/Chelmsford Film Society

When I signed up to write for ‘Unknown Displeasures’, for the most part, I was pretty sure of what to expect: I would be given a film picked from the murky depths of Amazon Prime, be forced to watch it and then spend a while criticising its every shortcoming. When the editor assigned me the bizarrely named Essex Spacebin, I thought my suspicions had been confirmed. Yet, after the film ended, I reached a rather strange conclusion: the film wasn’t too bad.

Well, no, actually, it was bad – but that was the point. The film describes itself as “the worst story ever told”, and the directors David Hollinshead and Philip Thompson certainly go out of their way to make the film look terrible (or at least I assume they do so on purpose – it would be an achievement to make a film that looks this bad by accident). The audio is frequently out of sync with the video, and continuity is purposefully broken with the directors choosing to play the same shot twice in succession, giving the impression there was a mistake in the editing room. The acting is also awkward and clumsy, and the dialogue is uninspiring.

Yet, underneath its ugly exterior, the film does go some way towards being likeable. The story boils down to a simple tale – Lorraine, a middle-aged Essex woman played by Lorraine Malby – is in search of the Stargate, a portal to another dimension, which no one else believes exists. Genuine tension is created, as the audience is made to doubt her sanity more and more as the film progress. However, her character is benevolent, and we find ourselves willing her on, hoping she will be proven right in the end.

“I reached a rather strange conclusion: the film wasn’t too bad. Well, no, actually, it was bad – but that was the point”

The cinematography at times is very well done. Hollinshead and Thompson experiment with a variety of different camera techniques and filming styles – I particularly like the use of one of the character’s video messages to Lorraine in the second half of the film, where new information is inadvertently relayed to the viewer. It keeps them guessing about the conclusion of the film. The voiceovers were also used effectively, allowing the film to be seen through the eyes of the various characters.

The film, at times, suffers from its deliberate awfulness being overdone. I found the soundtrack downright irritating in some places, clashing with the dialogue. The humour, which is absurdist and bizarre, may not be to everyone’s taste. I was also slightly disappointed by the actors breaking character, which seemed to be by accident, rather than part of an effort to make the film look purposefully bad. When this occurred, the suspension of disbelief needed to watch a film like this was broken, and in turn left me unengaged.

But, in many ways I was impressed with the film I saw. Yes, I probably wouldn’t have seen or heard about it unless I was assigned it specifically. Nor will I ever take the time to watch it again. But, for the time I spent watching it, I certainly didn’t hate it – some parts I even found rather funny. This was far more than I expected from this film. Hollinshead and Thompson have shown that they have some talent, and I’m interested in what they can achieve if they are, one day, given a bigger budget to play with. Watch this space

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