Dir: Karl Golden
Wri: Chris Cole
Starring: Harry Treadaway, Emma Booth, Arthur Darvill, Christopher Fulford, Ali Craig
Run Time: 90 mins
Distributor: Icon Entertainment
As it begins, Pelican Blood, feels like it is going to be something very different from the norm of British-drama. Nikko (Treadaway) is an OCD racked, suicidal, bird watcher. We first meet him paying a cursory visit to his mum's funeral before setting off with his friends Cameron and Bish to go bird watching. Having tried killing himself before rather violently with a blade, where he also stabbed his unlucky sister, Nikko's new plan involves spotting 500 birds.On having spotted his 500th he will allow himself to die. Things are made complicated with the reappearance of Stevie (Booth). Having met on a suicide website she is met with raised eyebrows from Nikko's friends and family who know what a bad influence she is on him. As they pick up there old relationship things become increasingly intense as they both struggle to deal with the feelings they have toward each other and there ultimate desire to end it all.
Like I said as the film begins there is that sense that we're about to watch something different, something dark and humourous, tackling issues not widely seen in cinema by way of an unusual sub-plot, that being the bird watching. Lovely looking photography in places is couple with intriguing characters who don't merely tread filmic cliches of likability of justification. Initially the characters all have an air of mystery to them, they act with no real explanation as to why they do things, they live their lives with no apology or reason giving to anyone else.
But that's where the film ultimate problem arises. Everyone's too smug for their own good. What starts off as quirky and unapologetic ends up becoming wholly frustrating by the end of the film. Nikko spends a lot of voiceover time explaining that he wants to end it all, the different ways he could end it, the different categories of suicide victims but never expressly WHY he wants to. Don't get me wrong I'm not saying that all character motives, in all film should be spelt out in felt-tip pen. But when we're spending a film with a character who's whole personal arc has to do with committing that most final of acts, it would be nice to have a few more clues. There is the old-school of thought which says that suicide is the ultimate selfish act and Nikko doesn't really do anything to defy this way of thinking. Stevie, too when she appears on the scene is such a free-spirit, a loose cannon on deck if you will, oh she'll brighten up Nikko's life. Well no instead we have the pleasure of watching two insufferably smug people engaging in 'forbidden' love. Everybody around Nikko tells him to stay away from her, but rather than shouting at the TV saying "don't listen to them Nikko you deserve all the happiness you can get" I found myself thinking "please for the love of God get rid of her and if you could go away that would be wonderful". Perhaps it comes down to the performances by Treadaway and Booth. Whilst no doubt very talented actors, bringing the right amount of intensity and frailty to the characters they also imbue them with this unpleasant self-righteousness. It all comes down to the point that we're asked to emotionally invest in characters I found wholly unlikable.
On the plus side though there is Ali Craig as Bish, one of Nikko's best friends. Always engaging when he's on screen and having his own problems and character arc. He would have probably made a better central character overall. Darran Tiernan's photography too is a highlight. Stark colours, hand-held camera, give way to occasional glimpses of beautiful countryside - the only place Nikko can truly forget his issues. Performances all round are quite solid. Even though Christopher Fulford's DC brings another level of smug to the party. Chris Cole's script too is for the most part solid. Though even that does veer off into melodrama once in a while, some scenes wouldn't sound out of place in a daytime drama on BBC1. A quick note too about the music choices. Crystal Castles and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! are usually welcome additions to any endeavour but here they seem out of place, the songs chosen add nothing to the scene over than to make you think "odd choice". It's as though the director had been listening to them when editing and decided that he liked them so much that they must be crow-bared in somewhere.
Aiming for a quirky angle on suicide drama Pelican Blood just left me cold. Death is one of the few truly universal and personal subjects in life. We all have our different feelings about it, we're all going to have to deal with it. Suicide too is a difficult subject, who truly knows what a person is thinking and feeling before they commit themselves to the act. Pelican Blood's almost lectures the viewer about the different kinds of suicides and suicidal people which once again gives the film and overall tone of, oh, let's say... smug.
EDIT - Here's a clip.
EDIT - Here's a clip.
Pelican Blood - ** stars
Released March 7th