Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) Film’s Got Soul

Dead Man’s Shoes  was writer/director Shane Meadows next contribution to the film world after his previous film Once Upon a Time in the Midlands   exploded onto the British film scene in 2002. Meadows co-wrote DMS with his lead actor Paddy Considine and Paul Fraser. Made on a shoestring budget of only £723,000 this film was completely overlooked, it seems, by everyone. Despite being ranked number 180 in Empire Magazines list of “201 Greatest Movies Of All Time” in 2006 and ranking twenty-seventh in 2008’s  “100 Best British Films Ever” the box office figures show a disappointing reception.  Actor Paddy Considine won the  “Best British Actor” at the 2005 Empire Awards and   Toby Kebbell was nominated for the Most Promising Newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards. Home viewing figures (DVD sales and rentals) have elevated the films reputation and it now has a huge cult following.

Paddy Considine plays Richard, a young man who left his home town Matlock, Derbyshire in the Peak District to join the Army. Richard  comes back to avenge  his mentally challenged younger brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell). A   gang that sells drugs has been bullying Anthony and Richard is going to make them pay for their crime. The gang is headed by Big Al (Seamus O’Neill) and his right hand man is Sonny (actor Gary Stretch), who is also the gangs enforcer. Sonny is the brightest member of the group and the hardest. The remaining members are Soz, Tuff, Herbie and Mark. Out of the six strong gang, only Mark (like Richard) has left Matlock.

Richard makes his  presence known to Herbie (actor Stuart Wolfenden) first.  Herbie is the  gopher of the group, he is collecting money  in a Social Club (pub) when he notices Richard staring at him in a hostile manner. When he asks Richard, “What are you looking at?” Richard responds by saying, “I’m looking at a C**t.” Herbie, who is the weakest member of the gang, decides it is time to leave. Once he gets outside of the club, Richard comes out and apologises to Herbie.

Herbie goes to Soz and Tuff’s flat where they cut and distribute the drugs and tells them of his encounter.  Herbie now thinks that the man he talked to was Richard, Anthony’s brother. All three men become very quiet after hearing that Richard is back in town. Richard in the mean time has been very busy. He breaks into Big Al and Sonny’s house and covers them both in make-up while they are sleeping. He then goes to the entrance of Soz and Tuffy’s apartment building. When Herbie starts to leave the building, Richard (in a gas mask) starts banging on the door and shouting. Terrified Herbie runs back up to the flat and tells the other gang members of the “Elephant Man” at the front of the building.

All three men go out to find Richard. When they return to the flat, empty handed they find that the flat has been emptied as well. All the gangs drugs and money have been taken. Reluctantly the three then go to Big Al to tell them what has happened. When they arrive they find Sonny and Big Al in women’s make-up. Herbie tells Big Al and Sonny about Richard and the gang decide they need to take care of him.

Paddy Considine is truly terrifying as Richard. His character has no problem dishing out the ultimate punishment of death to the gang members that bullied his brother Anthony. Toby Kebbell is so convincing as the mentally challenged Anthony that I thought the actor was really suffering from a mental disorder. He is touching and shy as Anthony and the audience sympathizes with him immediately. We also are behind Richard and his quest of vengeance. In between Richard terrorizing and killing gang members, he and Anthony talk. Mostly Richard is asking Anthony about who specifically bullied him and how, but they also talk about the “old days” before Richard left for the Army. The love demonstrated by the two brothers is impressive and touching.

Viewers of the film will be surprised at the double twist ending.  They will also be impressed by the actors and their ability to sell their deaths. The cinematography is impressive, all the more so when you see how they managed to make the death of Big Al look so real. Writer/ Director Shane Meadows has put together a brilliant film that rightly deserves its place in the 100 greatest British Film list.

Once you have seen this film, you will never forget it.

Mum and Dad: Keeping Horror in the Family

Shot with an estimated budget of just £100,000 ($157,000) this film sets the goal posts for “shoe string budget” films.  First time director Steven Sheil also wrote the film, putting him in the illustrious company of peers like Shane Meadows (Dead Man’s Shoes and This is England) and James Watkins (Eden Lake). This small elite group of British film makers have made brilliant and successful   films that they wrote and directed for  ridiculously tiny amounts of money.
The horror film Mum and Dad shows us first hand what happens when we talk to strangers or trust them. It also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that you really don’t know the people you work with.
The films starts out in Heathrow Airport where cleaner Lena (played by Holby City Alumnus Olga Fedori)  gets to know her fellow workers, brother and sister team, Birdie and Elbie (Ainsley Howard and Toby Alexander). Birdie takes a shine to Lena and tells her about her wonderful parents. Lena explains that she doesn’t get along with her parents and wants to move away from home. At the end of their shift, Lena misses her bus home, and Birdie invites Lena to stay at her house which is near the end of a runway. Lena agrees and follows Birdie and Elbie to a gap in the runway security fence. Clamouring through the gap, they all proceed to the house.
After arriving in Birdie and Elbie’s home, the brother and sister disappear leaving Lena alone. She just starts to explore the house when she meets Dad (played brilliantly by actor Perry Benson) who knocks her out and injects her with something. Lena regains conciousness only to find that she is in a dark room. All she can hear are the tortured screams of someone in the house. Dad then enters the room with Mum (played with sinister madness by Dido Miles). Mum tells  Lena that she will belong to her and she injects Lena again.
The  film deals with a host of indignities inflicted upon Lena. Watching the film, I kept wondering who was going to rape Lena first, Mum or Dad. The entire household appear to be insane sexual deviants who rely on stolen items from the airport to help them get by. It also turns out that Birdie and Elbie are “adopted” just as Lena will be. The only real child that Mum and Dad have is a daughter who is chained to her bed in an attic room.  The daughter suffered severe brain damage after being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Dad explains, quite gleefully, that as she was a home delivery he had to cut the cord with his teeth.
Lena soon realises that if she does not escape, she will become the mad couples new “daughter.”   Mum and Dad  explain that other “children” who could not  behave were disposed of.  Since their definition of behaving includes being tortured and sexually molested, Lena  starts playing Mum, Dad, Birdie and Elbie against one another with the hope of getting away.
Steven Sheil  based his film on real life rapists and serial killers Fred and Rosemary West whose victims included their own flesh and blood daughter. The film could have been very grim viewing but the director has taken a lot of the sting out of the tale by injecting large doses of black humour. I found myself cringing one moment and laughing the next. The film  deals  with taboo issues such as cannibalism, sexual fetishes, and incest on top of the main topics of kidnapping, murder and theft.
The title of this review could very easily have been Mum and Dad: Horror on a Budget. The director and the cast and crew have proven you don’t need big Hollywood type funds to make an entertaining film.  Writer/director Steven Sheil has produced a film that has been hailed as one of the most disturbing Brit-Horror films to emerge  in recent years. Do not watch this film if you are at all squeamish, but if you can stand a lot of gore, this is a must-see.
Personally, I cannot wait to see what Steven Sheil has in store for us in his next feature.