UK (2012) Dir. Jason Ford

I have to confess that the sole reason for watching this film was because the director Jason Ford is a local lad so I was interested to see his work. As this, his second feature, has been afforded an international release and gained national exposure at the annual Film 4 Frightfest event my interest in this ultra low budget horror was somewhat heightened, curious as to what someone from my part of the woods could achieve in competition with bigger films.

A very straightforward story – Isabelle (Jemma Dallender) and Will (Elliott Jordan) are student filmmakers who want to film on the Draymen Estate which has an urban legend attached to it, concerning missing people and other unconfirmed horrors. When they get to the estate they find it deserted and run down, litter everywhere. They learn the person they went to interview, Mr. Lowman (Ellis Day), has died. Exploring the estate further Will and Isabelle meet the locals, and a shocking discovery makes them soon realise the legends may be true.

I have to say that Ford has actually made a pretty fine horror film that can hold its own against some of the big boys out there. The plot isn’t particularly ambitious but it is what you do with it that counts and the story does veer off into some interesting directions to make for an effectively unnerving experience. It may have a budget which wouldn’t even cover the cost of paper clips on a Hollywood production but Ford makes full use of what he has and it really doesn’t show on screen as one might expect.

Because of this the violence and gore isn’t as graphic as it might have been but the horror comes from other areas, most notably the menace of the bizarre residents on the estate. The first people Isabelle and Will encounter are the kids with their washed out complexions, black bags under their eyes and monosyllabic rapport. Up front are Mac (Ben Neagen) and Freddie (Jack Anderson) who lead the filmmakers into the woods to show them something – which happens to be their nonchalant barbaric treatment of animals!

Mac then introduces the pair to his Mum (Jo Dyson) who talks in stupefied riddles and has an unusual way of controlling her son when he gets excitable – exhaling marijuana into him! As the investigation continues we meet the psychotic looking Dumpy (played by producer Terry Bird) who hides a secret allotment where he grows his own special brand of wacky baccy with a rather unusual special ingredient. Is this what makes the locals so feral and violent?

You’ve probably guessed by now if it does but Ford throws in a few more surprises involving the gang of teens who attack of helpless protagonists, and the mysterious Auntie (Paul McNeilly), who everyone speaks of with great reverence. There is another twist thrown in mid-film regarding Isabelle and Will’s project which feels a little unnecessary and not explained properly – unless I missed something as the sound mixing of the dialogue was sadly a little muddy.

Ford is able to create a dense and atmospheric nightmare scenario with a quiet neighbourhood in the south east of England and intimate camerawork. At first the estate looks like any other impoverished rundown lost community under the current financial hardships but there is just something in the air that makes it that little more ominous. The second act is set largely at night, shown off to full effect as the emptiness of this small estate under the dim moonlight is seen through the hurried point–of-view perspective of a fleeing Isabelle.

Later in the film when the horrors truly begin to unfold, Ford employs more POV shots to fully convey the terror the victims are experiencing, placing the audience directly in their shoes. A simply jaunty angle here and a blurring of the lens there enhances this uncomfortable experience, and all achieved without buckets of blood and other acts of graphic violence.

This doesn’t mean this film is splatter and gore free – Will is subject to a violent mob attack with bloody results while you can’t turn in Mac’s house for finding a plate with pieces of human flesh lying around! As for the poor guy who gets stabbed in the head… Much of the horror though comes from the viewer being forced to use their imagination leaving the off camera screams to tease us with what may really be happening, although chances are we probably right.

It is the characters however that are the true nightmare of this film and after a slow and hesitant start they start to blossom, turning into an unhinged and unpleasant bunch to put the willies up even the toughest viewer. Mac, Freddy and their creepy friends make the children of the damned seem like angels while the wild gang of hoodies who attack Will would scare Hells Angels out of their leather boots! Dumpy is arguably the most sinister adult aside from Auntie, both characters wonderfully realised by their well cast actors.

Most of the faces won’t be widely known despite having earned a crust in support roles on all the major UK TV shows and soaps. Jemma Dallender however has either found her niche or is typecast as her CV is made up largely of horror film roles including I Spit On Your Grave 2. Here she seems to be the typical pretty face sans charisma female centrepiece of the genre but once the grim stuff begins Dallender shows her worth.

The amazing thing about Community is that one wonders if it needed a huge budget to be successful or get noticed as it works very well as it is. In fact, that is what makes it such an effectively creepy film its simplicity and a lack of unnecessary gloss. It won’t be a classic horror but it is certainly overlooked and Ford can be proud of it.