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Non-Review Review: Seamonsters

Seamonsters makes for an interesting feature film directorial debut from Julian Kerridge, Kerridge has a long and distinguished filmography as an actor, and has directed a pair of short films before this, but Seamonsters stands out as a fascinating first feature-length effort. Working from a script by Kerridge and co-writer Martin Sadofsky, the film offers an exploration of teenage life in a quiet seaside town. While Kerridge does seem to lose a grip on the plot during the second half, Seamonsters benefits from a wonderful young cast, a mostly light approach to its subject matter and an endearing almost ethereal atmosphere, perfectly capturing the idleness of teenage life.

All at sea...

To be fair, there’s little in Seamonsters that hasn’t been seen before. It’s a fairly standard coming-of-age story, centred around two young male friends and their lives and loves. There’s the relatively quiet, sensitive and thoughtful Sam, and the more simplistic, aggressive and offensive Kieran. The two waste away their days in a seaside town, collecting sand worms and fishing, occasionally visiting the local attraction, “Pirate World.”

Capturing that teenage sense of resentment at his surroundings, Kieran remarks, “Normal people don’t live around here.”It seems that everybody is passing through, trying to get out. The elderly Rose will regale anyone within earshot about her time in Las Vegas, the young Moony is homesick for London, we’re told that most of the population of the area are refugees or asylum seekers. The beachfront seems perpetually abandoned, perfectly evoking a sort of wasteland, which is undoubtedly how Sam and Kieran (and many other characters) must see it.

Keeping on track...

Seamonsters captures that sense well, and it’s strongest in its first half, as we follow our four teenagers through the day-to-day banality of life on the sea front. The script returns to sea metaphors time and again, to great effect – Rose discusses Atlantis, the teenage Lori describes herself as a siren, Sam discusses life from the point of view of a fish. All this creates a wonderful sense of timelessness – the notion that such idleness isn’t just temporary, but eternal, that teenage life will continue in perpetuity, that Mooney won’t leave to pursue her education, that Kieran won’t ever catch a fish, that Sam and Lori won’t ever hook up. It feels almost like life between the moments, and Kerridge captures it well.

He’s helped by a superb cast of youngsters, including Jack McMullen and Reece Noi. However, it’s the two female members of the cast who do the best, with Leila Mimmack making for a very damaged Lori and Georgia Henshaw playing Moony as a girl who has learned to compromise and accept what the world offers. The four actors do the best with the material afforded to them, and – for the first half of the film – they do quite a good job.

Backs against the wall...

Complications arise during the second half of the film, where a sudden development naturally throws everybody’s life into a sort of free fall. It seems almost like  Kerridge and Sadofsky had decided that they needed something to happen, in order to push the story towards some sort of conclusion. The development itself isn’t bad, but it leads the movie down a far more structured and convention path, removing a lot of the more relaxed and casual atmosphere that had been so engaging.

We get lots of blurry slow motion to illustrate how deeply our lead is affected by what has happened, and Walter Christian Mair’s film score suddenly shifts from subtle ambiance to a full-blown attempt at audience manipulation. In order to drive the movie towards a climax, where things can be resolved and we can wrap up relatively happy, our characters are easily divided and set into conflict with one another. While Kieran’s anti-social behaviour had been brought up in the first half of the film, the script seems to direct him towards full-blown drug-fueled psychopathy. I’m not saying that the portrayal doesn’t make sense, it just feels a little simplistic.

Life is a beach sometimes...

Indeed, Kerridge and Sadofsky’s script seems to try to hard to explain and rationalise itself. We’re provided with back story that’s intended to explain why Lori is the way that she is, and why Kieran is the way that he is. It seems that Lori’s depression can’t simply be a clinical or inherited condition, it has to have been brought on by trauma. Kieran isn’t just anti-social, he probably has a medical condition that explains his behaviour. Offering these observations seems to reduce the characters down to a set of influences and factors that makes them seem far more simplistic than they did previously.

Still, the first half is really something, capturing the sense of idle teenage life and the sense that such time is eternal. I think all teenagers seem to suspect that their tough teenage years will last forever, and Kerridge grasps that quite well in the first half. Of course, the twist in the middle of the film is intended to prove that things do not last forever, but it also robs the film of its delightfully light touch, turning it into something altogether more mundane and predictable.

2 Responses

  1. A well-written review. I grew up in such a town so this film will be particularly interesting for me. The sea is a well-established a symbol for timelessness, of course, but somehow still potent. I might not have gone to see this but for your review. Now I will.

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