This is a film that I find to be both charming and frustrating. It’s the story of a writer having a cataclysmic breakdown as he attempts to segue from children’s literature into more adult fare. Unfortunately his research on his desired topic, serial killers of Victoria Britain, has created in him an acute phobia of being murdered. The film starts with this writer, Jack (Simon Pegg), already in a state of turmoil and proceeds from there.
It’s got a claustrophobic, shambling, energy that almost immediately puts you into Jack’s head. If the film is successful at anything it’s in creating a truly fevered, and frenzied, state and maintaining that for the majority of its running time. There are occasional buoys of sanity, but for the most part we’re stuck in Jack’s headspace. As such the film is often not particularly pleasant, with the claustrophobia and atmosphere becoming so thick to become almost vicelike.
At these moments the film’s saving grace is its energy and direction. It feels at times like a bizarre mixture of THE MIGHTY BOOSH and Pegg’s collaborations with Edgar Wright. Although truth be told despite it’s at times maniac energy it veers closer to BOOSH than Wright’s movies (it doesn’t have the sheer control of focus of Wright’s movies for one). The film is populated with cutaway and moments of barely lucid surrealism and it is at times exhausting. Whilst Pegg is good in the main role he’s not a strong enough force to completely ground the whole endeavour and as it such it feels at several times like the film is massively going off the rails. It’s keeping with the tone of the film, but it also doesn’t feel particularly planned. As such it’s hard not to come away with the feeling that first time directors Crispian Mills and Chris Hopewell don’t have sure enough hands as directors. Which is a shame because there are moments of the film that are fantastic.
In fact one of the main frustrations of the film is that it’s jam packed with great, indelible, moments that are almost throttled by the cumbersome husk of the film as a whole. It’s a real curate’s egg and the effect after a while is to bring to mind a sketch show rather than a cohesive narrative. But when the film works, it WORKS, and that is where the frustration comes in. Because it’s a film that is wrong footed by its own ambition and own desire to try new things. When the film allows itself to go off on some narrative diversion it really comes to life and gains a sense of playfulness that is missing from the main narrative. Sure the moments where it tells a tale via the medium of stop motion animation are a refreshing change of pace, but they’re also memorable because they feel more fully formed and coherent than the main story.
In fact the main narrative really only kicks into gear within it's last ten or fifteen moments, where an outside force finally pierces the self inflicted misery of the first two acts. In fact the last act is perhaps the moment when the film really has any consistency and it's largely because it gives Pegg a chance to interact with other people and become a part of an ensemble.
At the end of the day it feels like a director’s workshop come to life and some of the results are absolutely fantastic, it’s just a shame that the film is hung around the hoary old cliché of a writer having a nervous breakdown. It feels completely played out and means the main narrative is particularly difficult to invest in.