Thursday, 7 July 2016
A disparate bunch of residents on a humdrum run down British housing estate must rally together to combat an unknown, menacing foe that threatens their lives - This kind of premise has been popping up quite often in the low budget British indie scene (Tower Block, Citadel, Community) and, whilst not always successful, it's proving to be quite a common little sub-genre that really uses its minimal budget and single locations in an effective manner. It just needs a name now; 'council estate chillers' anyone?
Set in a Southampton tower block, first-time director Neil McEnery-West's film Containment starts with struggling artist Mark (Lee Ross) waking up on the morning of his child custody hearing to find that the windows and doors of his flat have been sealed shut, locking him inside. His phone signals have also been blocked and the water, gas and electricity have been turned off. When some of his neighbours start to break through his wall with sledgehammers, it quickly becomes clear that everyone is in the same boat, whilst outside, people in hazmat suits are enforcing a quarantine by any means necessary.
It's a modest and short thriller at just 70 minutes which does mean that our band of beleaguered residents are stock 'disaster movie' style characters types; there's our frustrated hero Mark who may find his chance to test his mettle and shine in the ensuing crisis, a sympathetic and kind-hearted healer in nurse Sally (Sherlock and former Casualty star Louise Brealey) her snivelling, conspiracy-theorist boyfriend Aiden (William Postlethwaite) the unpredictable immigrant Sergei (Andrew Leung) whose aggression may prove useful or may be their undoing, his cute, mute kid brother Nicu (Gabriel Senior) and a crotchety geriatric with UKIP tendencies and tales of 'the good old days' during war, Enid (Sheila Reid). Eventually they're joined by the expositionary character played by Pippa Nixon, a hazmat clad figure they manage to confront in their quest for help and answers, who reveals that the estate is in the grip of a deadly virus that they must isolate at all costs. It's all fairly generic in tone and there's zero room for character development beyond these basic ciphers, but it does help expedite the story in an efficient manner, which makes it all the more curious that Containment runs to its own surprisingly sedate pace with long stretches of silence and a recurrence of some excellent, almost eerie scene-setting B roll footage of the tower blocks. It possesses a few nice turns overall, not least of all the admittedly refreshing retreat from the standard trope of a contagious virus turning people into zombies. Here, the only thing our central characters need to fear from their neighbours is the dog eat dog ends they will go to to save themselves.
However whilst this isn't a bad watch, it can be infuriatingly imperfect in places. If you're going to bring together a diverse mix of characters, I would expect the film makers to riff a little on the tensions at the heart of this mixed bag. As I say the character development here is virtually non-existent with each arc playing out more or less as you would predict or expect. It's a real shame because the actors gathered together here are more than capable of producing something of real depth and merit and, indeed, they do manage to breathe some life into these cardboardy characters. I've always liked Lee Ross and Sheila Reid and Louise Brealey both, in one way or another, play to their TV credentials; the former giving a variation of her chain smoking granny character in the odious but staggeringly popular sitcom Benidorm, and the latter providing a good pull for audiences which means a punch is packed regarding her character's arc. The plot holes and convenient developments on display are also a little infuriating; how come no one in any of the tower blocks noticed being imprisoned in their homes? Why are their no snooping parties such as news teams or onlookers descending upon this commotion? How opportunistic is it that the hazmat teams and snipers choose to leave their posts at just the right time? And the ending is really weak, suggesting as it does that the struggles we have just witnessed were all for naught. Maybe that was the point, but there's nothing here to suggest we're ending on a deliberately bleak tone, it's more of a whimper than an unsettling bang.
Still kudos to McEnery-West, he chose a good first time project and played to its strengths. He's a few wrinkles to iron out before proceeding, but there's nothing here to suggest he isn't capable of making a genuinely good film at some stage in the future.
Containment is currently airing on the Movies4Men channel.