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By midlandsmovies, Sep 6 2018 10:00AM

Margie's Garden

Directed by Ash Morris

An official selection of the NO/GLOSS Film Festival, Margie’s Garden is a new dark comedy-drama from regional filmmaker Ash Morris.

We open with a pensioner – Abigail Hamilton as Margie – who watches a bomber-jacket clad man working on an allotment as she takes a sip of a warm drink from a flask. Appearances can be deceiving however as we soon discover that this kindly old lady – next seen as high as a kite in her front room – is a local drug dealer with her home filled to the ceiling with cannabis plants.

Her similarly aged friends also seem to be enjoying the “high” life where copious amount of munchies in the form of sugary cakes and chocolate eclairs being consumed.

The film uses a realistic slice-of-life handheld aesthetic which gives it an air (smoke-filled of course) of authenticity despite the large leaps in imagination.

The story continues as Steven Arnold – from Morris’ previous film BARE (see Midlands Movies review here) – plays the mysterious Adam. And he suspects the house is a drug den, and one he could exploit for his own nefarious ends.

Showing up uninvited, the dope appears at the front door and threatens to expose the operation to the authorities unless he gets his slice. Margie seems less than fazed by the pressure and reminds him of his manners as he greedily downs tea and biscuits.

The film cross-cuts the main narrative with dream-like shots of people getting high on bongs and reefer. This is reflected in the cinematography where backlit rooms are filled with smoke and an air of hippie-infused haze. And slow motion, Dutch angles and heavily reverbed voices all lend the film an eerie tone too.

A strange comparison admittedly, these sequences reminded me of the melancholic slo-mo drug taking scenes in sci-fi reboot Dredd (2012) but they are hilariously cut with shots of domestic chores. Margie indulges herself in washing up and (pot?) tea served up in her best china as a lullaby style soundtrack plays in the background.

Margie then sends her son Kieron (This Is England’s burly George Newton) to face Adam in order to “tenderise the meat” in a brutal scene of retribution. She’s one old lady not to mess with! But after he returns to apologise, her nice side returns by offering him a pain-relieving spliff. Perhaps gaining a new customer in the process? Well, actually no. As he passes out from the herb, his ultimate outcome is far, far worse than you could imagine.

Written by Nicola Monaghan, she channels the British eccentricity of Ben Wheatley and a hint of The League of Gentlemen. And whilst it has a story similarity to the French film Paulette (2012), Monaghan balances the difficult task of being humorous yet grim and serious just moments later.

But the true star is the funny and sweet, yet very menacing, Abigail Hamilton as Margie herself. Seeing an old lady using the vernacular of the streets is comical alongside her animated face when in a drug high. However, as the tale turns more dark so does she, and her intense stare may haunt audiences' dreams for nights to come. Clever, and well shot on a technical level, I’d highly recommend checking out this strange Scarface of suburbia.

Mike Sales

By midlandsmovies, Aug 19 2018 07:30AM

Midlands Review - Bare

Recently released from prison is Steven Arnold’s Bill who in flashback is revealed to have been violent to his partner in a new drama film called BARE from Staffordshire director Ash Morris.

Bill initially seems withdrawn and somewhat forlorn as he makes his way back to his neighbourhood with his brother Ryan (Rob Haythorn of TV series Waterloo Road). Returning to his mum’s home, the narrative is interspersed with scenes of chaotic frenzy as we see Bob in his prison cell on the night of his arrest.

“A real man wouldn’t hit his woman", his mother screams at him at breakfast and the reality of his new position contrasts starkly with Ash Morris’ directorial use of flashbacks, which are a dreamy haze of blood and fierceness. A female victim, who is also pregnant, is seen drenched in blood staring at her reflection in a mirror seemingly contemplating the events that have just occurred.

Some smoky slow-motion shadow boxing and a Rocky-esque run in park with grey tracksuit shows Bill’s roots in violence before the film guides us to the shocking event itself.

Without scrimping on the graphic nature of the attack, we are then whisked back to present where William in joined by Bruce Jones (of Coronation Street) – an old friend who makes disturbingly light conversation of Will’s drink and violent past. And perhaps future.

Strangely, as although the violence isn’t condoned in Bare, the minor suggestion that alcohol or a woman’s taunting provokes the outrage is somewhat problematic. As someone who has been trained on the Freedom Programme, it is well established that whilst a lowering of inhibitions is without question through drink, the dominator shouldn’t be excused from choices made. Here in Bare, the character’s inherent violent nature could have been made more overt aside from the obvious boxing analogy.

That said, the film provides no easy answers and a great shot of blood-soaked water in a bath is a strikingly memorable image. Again, Bare doesn’t shy away from the harshness with a grotesque shot of his pregnant partner discharging blood shocking the audience in its deliberate portrayal.

Nottingham writer, and award-winning novelist, Nicola Monaghan says a lot with a little dialogue and the story’s non-linear structure gives us a glimpse into the past and future which was edited with great dexterity and form. Sound mixer Rick Smith, also from Nottingham, has worked on the This is England TV show and the brutal fist crunching, screaming matches and music are edited together brilliantly to give the film an aural jolt.

As we come to the film’s conclusion, a slide into the world of illegal underground fighting leaves hints, albeit small ones, of a touch of redemption and remorse as the reality of the consequences of the decisions he has made becoming hauntingly prescient.

A harsh uncompromising drama, Bare never lets up with its violence, darkness and serious tone which may be too much for sensitive viewers. However, it lays bare some horrible truths about domestic violence and the nature of its perpetrators, condemning and contemplating the various aspects of such situations. With technical flair and high production values, Bare is a fantastic Midlands film drama with strong performances from the whole cast and themes that will plague you long after watching.

Mike Sales

Watch the Bare teaser trailer below:

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