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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 03.25.08] movie review horror

Year: 2006
Director: Simon Rumley
Writers: Simon Rumley
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Amazon: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Simon Rumley’s The Living and the Dead was scarier and harder for me to watch than any horror film I’ve ever seen. A frank and often gut wrenching exploration of mental illness and the frailties of the human spirit, it is all shown through the unflinching eye of kitchen sink realism (something the Brits do better than anyone) which manages to up the film’s squirm factor by 10 and fill the mind with anxiety like you wouldn’t think possible. But is The Living and The Dead really a “horror” film as the marketing would have you believe? Well, not in the strictest sense no. With none of the usual manipulations of style or storytelling we’ve become accustomed to in the genre I’d say the film is much more of a dysfunctional family drama; but terrifying none the less. “Terror by good intentions” indeed.

The story is as follows: The Brocklebank family lives within the skeletal remains of Longleigh House, a once beautiful royal manor that now lies derelict due to years of neglect and the continual fading of the British Royal class. Mrs. Brocklebank is ill and is often tended to by her husband as well as a nurse from London. But when their son, the mentally challenged and delusional James, finds himself alone for a day he decides he's capable of looking after his mother by himself. Desperate to make his father proud and his mother well again, James inadvertently terrorizes the people he loves the most by doing what he thinks is right.

As previously stated, the film's style is unflinching to the point where I'd say the only thing more shocking than the subject matter of the film is how well it's been made. The acting is amazing across the board, with Leo Bill (who the ladies may remember as John Warren from Becoming Jane) turning in one of the best performances of the last couple of years as The Brocklebank's handicapped son. And personally I usually hate the characterization of mentally challenged people in films, but every action of Bill's performance runs the gamut from hysterical to nuanced so that it becomes frighteningly real.

But I also think that Rumley's done something else with The Living and the Dead that's been missed by many critics and viewers. The film is also (and all you Brits out there please feel free to chime in on this one) very much a treatise on the decline in contemporary relevance of the British Royal class. The characters seem strangely dislocated and forgotten, as if the Brockleback's are fighting to hold onto their family dignity in the face of a dying bloodline. But this isn't anything I thought of until after watching the film. It certainly isn't presented overtly.

I can see why this film has received the praise it has over the past year. It's a pretty amazing and visceral experience that never lets up the tension for a minute. However it is also a film that's not for the faint of stomach, and certainly not a rollicking good time at the movies.

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kateh (14 years ago) Reply

It's about time that I find a review for this movie. I was searching for one because I wanted to know if anyone felt the same as I did about this movie. You did a wonderful job summing up my thoughts.

It truly was a unique piece all in its self...

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