By midlandsmovies, Oct 31 2019 01:00PM
Midlands Review - The Despondent
Directed by Nisaro Karim
Five Pence Productions
The Despondent is the latest film from Five Pence Productions, the prolific Birmingham-based company who brought us Jed, The Chase, Peaky Blinders: A New Era and more. Primarily known for crime tales, this film is something of an ambitious departure for them as it sees them take on the horror genre.
Jazzmin Letitia stars as Keira, a troubled young woman who lives at home with her mother Jenny, played by Lisa Blissitt. At night she's tormented by visions of an evil demon in her room, one that seems bent on harming her, one that it seems there can be no escape from.
Horror has a rich history of externalising our internal demons, and that's pretty much what's happening here. Keira is depressed and the demon is her depression, pushing her towards suicide. It's all taking place in her head, the battleground where many of us (myself included) struggle and fight daily. It's a good analogy, but rather on-the-nose here.
The film is far from subtle, making it absolutely clear what's going on from Keira's conversation with her mum about her self-harm and medication. It would have perhaps been more interesting to see the two dance around the subject, never raising it head on but dealing entirely in subtext, so that when the tragic ending comes it hits harder. Having Keira stay in her pyjamas over the course of the two days is a very good touch, though, as that's absolutely consistent with some people who suffer from depression.
The story is quite slim and would benefit from having a little more to it, making the film a bit longer. It would have been good to have had more of a sense of Keira's struggles in the daytime sequences, and how they relate to her night terrors, so that we can relate to her more as a character. The scene with her mother establishes their rocky relationship in one quick punch, but at only 6 minutes long there's plenty of scope to let the relationship breathe a little more and help us understand Keira more intimately. As it is, she comes across more as moody than depressed.
This isn't to say that it's a bad performance; Letitia shines in the hallucinatory sequences where she's beset by the demon, coming across as believably vulnerable and disoriented. The standout performance by far though is the demon; it's not clear from the credits who played the part (perhaps split between Imran Uddin and Zohair Raza?), but it's a great piece of creepy body-performance, with stilted and almost contortionist-style movements. I definitely wouldn't want to wake to find him in my bedroom!
The film shines best in these disorienting sequences. The hand-held, shaky camerawork does a great job of confusing and distressing the viewer, and the unnatural framing and lighting work together to create unsettling scenes. There's a misconception that its easy to do horror on a low budget; it has to be planned and carried out carefully to make the most of what you have. Keeping the shots tight and moving fast keeps the audience uncomfortable and on their toes in the nightmare sequences, worrying that anything could happen. The film makes great use of noise in these sequences too, arguably the most important part of any horror film.
Ultimately, The Despondents falls just short of its ambition but it's still a great first step into horror. Nisaro Karim clearly has an instinct for how to unsettle the audience, it's just the slimness of the story itself that holds the film back. Definitely worth a watch, and here's hoping there's more horror to come from Karim and Five Pence!