Friday, 8 May 2015

Best of 21st Century British Alt. Cinema

Over recent years, Britain’s cinema output has been rather…predictable. The majority of said output has been generic Oscar-fodder biopics (12 Years A Slave, The Theory Of Everything, etc.) and feel-good films (anything with Richard Curtis attached). But every so often, amongst all of this, we put out some really fresh and original material that reminds us of the true power of film. Here’s my rundown of the best in alternative British cinema. 

LOCKE (2013)


Directed by Steven Knight

Tom Hardy…as a Welsh builder…driving. At its core, that’s what Locke is. Wrongly marketed as a fast, edge-of-your-seat thriller; Locke is slow, quiet drama. But my goodness, what an incredible film. Hardy delivers the performance of a lifetime here, single-handedly demanding our attention for the duration of the film. We don’t see ANYONE else onscreen, as the only other voices in the film come from Locke’s colleagues and family on the phone. I don’t want to ruin the plot of the film – like many stories, the twists and turns of Locke’s journey fall better unto a blind audience with no knowledge of what to expect. As such, I’d even suggest you avoid the misleading trailers. But, believe me when I say that Locke is extremely intelligent thought-provoking entertainment and a breath of fresh air for cinema. 

SIGHTSEERS (2012)


Directed by Ben Wheatley 

Britain’s always been good for dark comedy – I guess we have a twisted sense of humour sometimes. And what better example than Ben Wheatley’s wonderfully violent and bloody hilarious Sightseers, telling the story of Birmingham couple Chris & Tina’s caravan holiday across England. Sounds exciting, right? But as events conspire against them and the holiday goes downhill, one thing leads to another and the couple leave a trail of bodies behind them as they continue their trip. Alice Lowe (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace) is great here as the not-so-bright Tina but the real star is relatively unknown Steve Oram as short-tempered Chris. With the spirit of classics Withnail & I and Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May throughout, Sightseers is a true gem. Pitch black humour, over-the-top violence and some great caravans; this is a sight worth seeing.

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)


Directed by Jonathan Glazer

Next up, Jonathan Glazer’s surreal and scary Under The Skin. Scarlett Johansson plays an unnamed ‘woman’ prowling the streets of Scotland, and that’s all I’m prepared to say. Once again, the plot is full of surprises that shouldn’t be spoiled so I’m keeping quiet! Scarlett Johansson is phenomenal in the role, showing a complete lack of emotion with great skill. Interestingly, a lot of the other ‘characters’ are played by non-actors – hidden cameras captured Johansson’s interactions with the people of the streets, while she remained in character. Now, the film demands a LOT of attention and an analytical mind for the strong surrealism and metaphorical shots. Those who give this attention to the film will be rewarded. And those who don’t? Well, Scarlett Johansson gets undressed in it if that floats your boat and lifts your luggage.

28 DAYS LATER (2002)


Directed by Danny Boyle

In 2002, Danny Boyle breathed new life into the ‘zombie’ genre with this modern classic. Although many, including myself, have been known to argue that ‘the infected’ in this film AREN’T zombies; I suppose the film is a ‘zombie film’ at its core. Shot on handheld digital cameras, the film delivers extremely gritty and eerie cinematography – there is a sequence in a deserted London that is still breath-taking today. For those who don’t know the plot – 28 Days Later tells the story of a young man who awakens from a coma to a post-apocalyptic world (*cough*The Walking Dead*cough*) and joins a group of survivors as they head toward a safe zone. Although it may sound predictable, rest assured the plot takes some surprising turns and, despite being made 13 years ago, still holds up well as a fresh and unique horror film.

SEXY BEAST (2000)


Directed by Jonathan Glazer

And finally; the delightfully profane Sexy Beast – also directed by Jonathan Glazer. Ex-gangster Gal (Ray Winstone) is trying to enjoy retirement in his sunny villa, but his old criminal friend Don (Ben Kingsley) has other ideas. When taken as a whole, the film is a run-of-the-mill British crime thriller that is not too dissimilar from Guy Ritchie’s classics Snatch and Lock, Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels. But there’s some very interesting surreal imagery scattered throughout when you least expect it, making it stand out as something of a gem of the genre. Making it stand out even more is a phenomenal Oscar-nominated performance from Kingsley, who yells some of the finest and vilest insults in cinema history like he was born to say them. A swear-filled modern crime classic and a nice alternative to Ritchie’s greats, Sexy Beast is worth a look. Maybe it isn’t one to watch with your dear old gran, though.

To conclude, this small offering of alternative cinema should open up a great pool of unusual, unique, dark, twisted, sometimes even surreal works to you. Britain isn’t all Paddington and Harry Potter, you know!

Sam Love


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