This is not a Norfolk anyone with ambition hopes to stay in. A bus driver early on wishes Goob Taylor a good life on the proviso he gets out of this shithole. Guy Myhill’s film is not so much a coming of age tale as a desperate race to escape a rural nightmare. Heavily steeped in the rhythms of life in the flat lands of the east, Goob’s journey through family dysfunction burns slow and deep in this impressive debut feature.
Goob, played by newcomer Liam Walpole is introduced on the school bus returning from his final day in education. 16 years old, the world should now be his oyster. Instead, it remains a dilapidated diner where he lives with his mother Janet (Sienna Guillory), brother Rodney (Joe Copsey) and Janet’s intimidating new partner Gene Womack (Sean Harris).
Gene is the cloud that hangs over all their horizons, the catalyst for the chaos that sweeps them up. An aggressive, philandering stock car racer, he demands obedience and gets it through terror and abuse. When he’s not around, Goob moves into a tender, playful relationship with his mother. They tickle each other on the bed and hug deeply. When he is around, that attention must be on him. Even injury can’t shake his hold. After Rodney is badly hurt in a car accident, an event caused by Gene, she visits once, and then only for five minutes, ordered away by Gene and unwilling to disobey.
Sean Harris is utterly repellent in his role, bringing Gene to life in a way so effective you almost wish he hadn’t. There are early scenes where he plays happy families with Janet but they feel like a sham. An overly exuberant celebration after Gene wins a race tries to force a rapport that doesn’t exist. The only real connection comes through their animalistic desire for each other, nothing deeper. He’s too busy pursuing staff and lusting after the young seasonal workers who come to tend their fields; she doesn’t want to risk losing her man.
With Goob he shows a terrifying brutality. He’s ordered around with curt menace, dumped into pits until holes are complete and dragged around like a shovel to complete tasks. That’s Gene at his best. When Goob’s attraction to seasonal picker Eva (Marama Corlett) blossoms into something mutual, Gene’s there to cross every boundary of decency.
Myhill’s deprived backdrop accentuates the emotional squalor Goob is forced into. Junked machinery rusts away outside a threadbare diner with a partly missing sign and a décor that hasn’t been in fashion for the better part of 50 years. Alcohol is readily available, all the better to fuel awkward fumbles. Dull fields, grimy car windows and basic block bus shelters make up the world Goob comes from.
If Sean Harris nails the villain of the piece, newcomer Liam Walpole excels with a beautifully measured title performance that captures his uncertain position in the world. His path from subdued teenager to assertive man is gradual and convincing. There’s no implausible sudden switch. It happens in degrees as he pushes back against the tyranny of Gene.
There are only occasional missteps. In an effort to paint Gene in the darkest light possible, it’s sometimes laid on too thickly. Watching him masturbate in the car while staring at Eva at work seems unnecessary and out of keeping with the arrogant swagger that marks the rest of his performance. Elsewhere, Goob is forced into foolish behaviour simply to provide the spark to Gene’s tinder. Otherwise, The Goob captures the hell of a life lived under the thumb and the relief that comes with escape. It’s a powerful debut feature that marks Myhill out as one to watch in the future.