Genre: Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Steve Reeves
Starring: Blake Harrison, Maxine Peake, Christine Bottomley, Sam Hoare
Developing the idea that drove his critically acclaimed short Taking Life, Steve Reeves’ directorial debut is one brimming with ideas. Collaborating with first-time screenwriter Mike Oughton, Reeves attempts to ask some intriguing questions about human nature, specifically concerning the different ways people react when caught up in an unimaginable situation, while building a story that maintains a consistently heightened degree of tension. The result is a film that combines dramatic self-discovery with atmospheric psychological thrills; it’s undeniably brave, but also inescapably flawed.
Given that much of the effectiveness of the film’s narrative hinges on the element of surprise, it would be unfair to divulge too much of the plot. Suffice to say it focuses on driven careerist Charlotte, who finds herself caught in a waking nightmare following an altercation with her cleaner. As she tries to piece her life back together, Charlotte soon discovers an opportunity to atone for her mistakes, but a local security guard who’s also aware of Charlotte’s secret has other ideas.
There’s always a degree of fascination in watching the first filmic steps of a new director. Striving to ground his film within the realms of reality, Reeves shows great flair in his directorial approach, using Roger Pratt’s subtly engaging cinematography and Maxine Peake’s commendable central performance to great effect. His use of extended takes endeavours to allow Charlotte’s personality and her predicament the freedom to develop slowly, with the utilisation of Stephen Warbeck’s moody score permeating the atmosphere with a constant sense of dread. What soon becomes intolerably frustrating though, is that much of this hard work is crippled by a narrative that fails to achieve the levels of authenticity it aspires to.
At the very heart of Reeves and Oughton’s script is a brilliant concept that’s constantly eager to burst forth, but never able to. In their keenness to shock the audience through relentless changes in direction, the writer’s eventually bend their entire film out of shape. Their reliance on coincidence is a constant source of weakness, with various implausible plot twists only serving to perplex the audience. Likewise, the incoherent characterisation of Charlotte, who suddenly transforms from contrite yet composed perpetrator to panicked victim, lacks credibility and leads to a chaotic narrative shift in the second act that further hinders the film’s sense of realism.
It is however, mesmerizingly performed with both passion and practicality by Maxine Peake. Though her character’s journey feels messy, Peake still succeeds in injecting Charlotte with enough conviction to carry the story forward even in its weakest moments. Her character’s guilt and internal misery are etched within Peake’s dark and soulful eyes, adding layers of depth and poignancy to the film that the script fails to capitalise on.
Meanwhile, as the security guard who threatens to bring Charlotte’s world crashing down around her, Blake Harrison’s courageous decision to play himself against type proves he is an actor far more capable than many would be likely to give him credit for. Though his role feels like an afterthought within the structure of the story, not turning up until the film’s final third, Harrison confidently instils the film’s theatrical finale with a potent sense of menace that’s worlds away from the dafter comedic characters he’s known for playing.
There’s plenty to admire about Steve Reeves’ debut, the strong performances melding well with the director’s skilful sense of filmmaking. Unfortunately though, a contrived script with muddled intentions stops this film from ever being as rosy as it aims to be.
Keeping Rosy is playing at Picturehouse Cinemas across the country as part of their ‘Discover Tuesday’ program on Tuesday July 15th.