Monday, May 03, 2010

Umbrage – review

Director: Drew Cunningham

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

Ambition, oh boy it goes a long way. However it can be as much an enemy as it is a friend at times. Umbrage is a British film described as a dark fantasy and first time director Drew Cunningham certainly had a huge amount of ambition when he set out to make this film. In many respects it works, and when it does it works rather well. However it does, on occasion, become lost within itself becoming its own worst enemy.

Phelan bitten
The film begins with a Western scene. A cowboy, Phelan Collins (Jonnie Hurn), drifts into (what could be described as) a one horse town. The street is deserted and he makes his way to the hotel, where a man (A J Williams) drinks. He lifts his gun, the man nods and a woman (Natalie Celino) streaks out of the hotel and onto him, biting his wrist. We note three things here, it is daylight, we don’t see her face in focus and the bite marks have a human bite radius and are not fang marks.

Rita Ramnani as Rachel
Modern day and we see a girl, Rachel (Rita Ramnani), in a car. It was in these portrait shots, during the credit role, that I decided I rather liked Drew Cunningham’s choices within the photography. I should also note that the film looked properly filmed, rather than a home movie, which is always nice to see. The car passes two hikers, Stanley (James Fisher) and Travis (Scott Thomas). They go off road, quoting An American Werewolf in London – that was rather fun but we will get to the subject of quotations later. The car stops at a house, whilst the Hikers pitch a tent. Lets meet the two groups.

Jacob and Lauren
In the car, as well as Rachel, are Jacob (Doug Bradley) and his pregnant wife Lauren (Grace Vallorani). Now this is, to my knowledge, Mr Bradley’s first vampire movie – so welcome to the filmic genre – though not his first brush with the genre as he played Barlow in the BBC radio adaptation of ’Salem’s Lot. There are clearly tensions between Lauren and Rachel – who is Jacob’s step daughter. There are bitchy comments about Jacob and younger women, we know Rachel’s mother is dead but that seems tied into the family skeletons.

To be honest I wasn’t sure about the dynamics within the dysfunctional family unit. However they make more sense when we eventually discover what the dark secrets are. Jacob is an antiquities dealer and he opens a package in the barn, an obsidian mirror that, he tells Rachel, is priceless and has been sent to him to sell. Given its value one wonders at him leaving it in the barn – even if they are in the middle of nowhere.

As for the hikers, well they are an odd pair and no mistake. Stanley is suffering from a broken heart and Travis has taken him out on the hike to help him forget the girl. However, he never came across as the sort of character who would go out of his way for a friend, indeed he came across as an ignorant git whose attempts at humour, at Stanley’s expense, seemed cruel rather than cheeky. As it is they pitch a tent, light a fire and get drunk and stoned.

I'm an ornithologist
Noises in the wood disturb them, growling it would seem. They are sure that someone is there and, lo she appears. She is an ornithologist watching owls, or so she claims, and she never gives her name – we’ll get to this in lore. Whilst Travis starts getting hot and bothered about her, we think there is something odd. Her clothes seem a little old fashioned and her behaviour a little distant (I hope they were aiming for that and it wasn’t a flaw in the acting). Travis goes off into the woods with her.

A scream. Stanley runs to his friend and discovers him, his face ripped open and his groin pumping blood whilst his cruelly severed member lies upon the floor. Before Stanley can properly react she tells him to run and mentions that *they* are shadows. Meanwhile Rachel is in the barn, she puts her hand in the shadows and it is scratched. Then a man, Phelan, steps into her path. Stanley and the girl have got to the farmhouse and Jacob calls her in.

Jonnie Hurn as Phelan
So, what’s going on? Well Stanley raves about things from the shadows (though he never saw them), the mysterious woman mentions a man and, after Rachel mentions Phelan, they assume they are one and the same. Strangely Rachel doesn't mention the scratches from the shadows. Lauren goes to lie down and the shadows seem to have come to her and start eating the baby, from inside her, seeming like a miscarriage and forcing Jacob to have to try and take her to hospital. Of course Phelan is outside. We will leave the synopsis here but please be warned there are heavy spoilers when we discuss the lore.

scratched by the shadows
Before the lore however, I will say that the film worked quite well as a whole. I especially like the way we never saw the shadows (what they are will be mentioned in the lore), a factor that harked back to horror films of yore. More could have been done with this, in a horror sense, but this is billed as dark fantasy rather than horror. However the pacing went astray towards the later part of the film. There is a scene, a lull in action, where it snows (for no plot related reason) and a Western styled song plays and the whole moment just brings the pace (which had been steadily building) to a crashing halt. There are also a couple of flashback scenes that slow the pace and one, at least, is unnecessary.

Lilith, in the Garden of Eden
This brings us into the lore. Remember the woman who attacked Phelan – the same one in the woods… We get the hint when she says, as an ornithologist, she is looking for owls for they are creatures of Lilith – for it is she. Hence the bite marks being human on Phelan, whereas he has fangs. She is the original. The unnecessary flashback scene was her being raped by Adam, in the garden of Eden, a scene that slowed everything and could have been simply dialogue without the filmic depiction.

Phelan with the rib
So who was she with in the Wild West. Her husband… Unnamed in film, one might assume the Devil and he is called, in credit, Sammaelson. Why? I assume he is Sammael (mythical husband of Lilith, angel of death and sometimes the serpent in the Garden of Eden). Why the ‘son’ at the end? I don’t know. The shadows are their children and owls are hers to command. The shadows are infuriated by (and created via) bright light, which is a nice spin on the idea of light in the vampire myth. She is drawn to the mirror, as a gateway it appears, and why she decided to involve the hikers is anyone’s guess. She can be killed – which is Phelan’s goal – with a rib of Adam (which Phelan stole from the Vatican, off screen), which again is a nice spin on a genre staple, this time the stake through the heart.

As for Phelan, we discover very little than that which I have offered already, except perhaps that he seems to be able to see right into the core of Rachel and, like Lilith, sunlight is not problematic for a fully fledged vampire, as opposed to whatever Lilith's children are, living in the shadows. He claims to be souless and is a great character, an Irish cowboy who is quick to quote things (‘What would Buffy do?’ being a great one) and superbly played by Jonnie Hurn. The shame of Phelan is that we see so little of him but he is a cracking anti-hero. As for the quotes, they started off being wonderfully referential but perhaps there were just too many in the film, ultimately. That was a common theme, I guess, as the film had loads of ideas, also, but again perhaps too many for its own good.

Doug Bradley as Jacob
Bradley is excellent, though perhaps the dialogue the family were given needed a little tightening around the edges, especially Rachel’s. I didn’t necessarily buy the character, but it wasn’t Ramnani’s fault, it was more that the angst was just too heavy and this made the changes in character direction seemed a little too sharp and her reaction to Phelan perhaps a little too casual. I’d suggest her character could have been developed a tad further, to make her motivations seem more reasonable.

Criticism aside, I rather enjoyed this and certainly commend Cunningham on his first film as director. I feel we are likely to hear good things about him in the future. For this I’m giving it a floating above the centre line 5.5 out of 10. I revisited the UK DVD release of Umbrage and decided that, whilst I stand by the narrative, the score given should actually be 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Where did you find this movie? I search for it everywhere, but I can not find (((((

Taliesin_ttlg said...

This review was from a screener sent to me by the production company.

There is no firm release date yet, the film is currently doing the festival circuit.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I see...Thank you for your answer. Damn I can not wait...
Please answer to my question - Doug Bradley's Character survive?
Thanks again.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

007006, now that is a bit of killer spoiler you've requested...

mail me at taliesinloki (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk and I'll furnish you with an answer...

I don't want to spoil it too much publically.

Anonymous said...

Ok. I sent a message to you

Dauria said...

Thank you so much for the review! Frankly speaking spoilers could have killed my curiousity about this movie, but they failed))) Now I should have known half of the movie but still would like to see it...looking forward to dvd-release.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

no problem Dauria, I'm glad the review wetted your appetite

olbas006 said...

---Now this is, to my knowledge, Mr Bradley’s first vampire movie
And not only now. He played in the new vampire movie Reverend

Taliesin_ttlg said...

olbas006, he is indeed in the Reverend (review hopefully up soon) but it is very much a cameo role