By Ben New @
A man wakes up, his alarm didn’t go off. He moves to the kitchen, the taps aren’t working. A glance out the window to a neighboring block reveals someone banging at a window, calling for help. We try to leave and the door is glued shut then comes the sledgehammer whacks from one of the neighbor‘s wall, the whole time accompanied from insistent shouting from the elderly neighbor from the other. This is the very intriguing first few minutes of feature director debutant Neil West’s Containment and, although the rest of the film doesn’t quite live up to this opening, it does present West as someone with a promising future in this solid piece of genre cinema.
West’s earlier work centered on the idea of memories; whether they are child acts of creativity helping an artist through writer’s block, in his 16mm film Portrait, or the miniDV Sci-Fi Undertow where memory and present day intertwine in a barren future London. However, this idea is not on display in Containment, it follows a much more conventional and linear path. Our protagonist is Mark played by Lee Ross, a familiar face to most of us because of is stint in EastEnders in the mid to late 00s. Mark is an artist and seems to be going through a divorce and a child custody battle. After the aforementioned opening movement, we witness some creepy orange jumpsuit clad figures moving on the ground below appearing to attack fellow residents. This prompts an unlikely union of neighbors as they struggle to find answers and a way out.
Except for Mark, the script draws its characters in the ‘one room’ thriller mold like the film Cube or Fermat’s Room; they each have one overbearing trait that governs their every action. There is the violent one, the pessimistic one, the senile one etc. As the paranoia and fear grows, each character’s path reaches the natural forgone conclusion that their trait had set them, struggling to generate any great surprises along the way. The film also tussles a bit with it’s tone, deaths are met with a kaleidoscope of reaction from completely unfazed to total breakdown with no real indication to why and the comedic relief is generally rendered completely limp and contrived, the use of Mark’s sculpture as a block for a door being one such instance that felt forced by the script rather than a character driven idea.
However the film isn’t without merit, the moments when the characters are reacting and drawing conclusions to what they can see from the limited perspective of their flat window are executed with Hitchcockian precision. The film’s location is well utilised; the shots of the council estate tower blocks, narrow corridors and cramped flats, a lot of which that could have looked mundane, all have an eerie quality with most of the action playing out underneath nicely lit artificial hues or the dim skies of London. These confined spaces are also filled by the film’s strongest asset, the acting of Ross. The character Mark makes the situation seem the most believable and doesn’t feel like he is a simple plot driving mechanical piston. It’s on his face that the paranoia and confusion is played out and it his struggle that has any real weight. His over protection of the youngest and oldest neighbours (mirroring the loss of his son and wife in his life) strikes a nice chord with his inferred backstory. This is nice three dimensional hidden stitch work of the script that isn’t overstated by the West and his direction. A confident debut, albeit contained.
Containment is released into cinemas on September 11th.