Arriving at the tail end of this year’s DC Independent Film Festival (dciff-indie.org) is the latest film from British director Nicholas David Lean. Actually it’s his first theatrical feature after a 27-minute British TV short entitled “Washed Up” from 2011.
It took me a while to get into the swing of this movie (guess I should have glimpsed at the trailer). Carl Foster (Wil Johnson) is a man on the run on a moonlit night, being chased by barking dogs and unknown assailants. A prison break? Nope, no jail garb in sight. He’s dirtied and bloody damaged, wearing an oxford shirt and a nice watch, but, still, as the heartbeats pound on the soundtrack, you’re confused, or, at least, a bit curious…
Flashing back to help you figure out how-did-Carl-get-in-this-fix, you find him having major domestic issues with his ice queen wife Maddie (Angela Dixon) and her Lolita-esque teenage daughter Chloe (Frances Speedie). Wet dreams may ensue as the family, including Carl’s son, Lucas (Callum Anderson), embark for a quiet weekend away from his demanding work. Carl, like much of society, can’t disconnect from the world at large, or his stressful I.T. job (promotions mean responsibilities), but when he plops his Blackberry on the family car’s dashboard, Maddie, already moodily carnivorous to the point of biting his head off, roars her disapproval that it intrude on their trip. My guess: deep breaths won’t save this family. A good map or GPS device might have.
Their simply vacation veers off the roadway when a bunch of “f*****g inbreds” hijacks the family for their own purposes. The last two-thirds of the film explores the depravity of the captors, led by Dog (Jamie Foreman) and other single-named (and simple-minded) entities. Dimwitted racists (the family is bi-racial) with bad teeth (among other body parts)? Backwoods carney folk? Some twisted game? Don’t jump to any conclusions. Just let director-writer Lean seemingly play it out like many family-in-peril films before, with his own violent, intense edge.
It’s not brilliant filmmaking, but “Hard Shoulders” does have its imaginative moments of character-driven craziness, as members of both families play off one another and provide a feeding ground for numerous naughty, depraved, and sadistic adventures. He provides little pockets of hope (a box cutter not seen by the goonies, a pocket knife hidden under a mattress) before springing something you probably won’t expect just as the film comes full circle.
All the standard pieces are there in this offbeat tale of terror. Lean’s got a decent grasp on his story and might even make you like the film despite nary a likable soul in the whole lot. Can’t wait to see what he throws at us next!