5.5 out of 10

Release Date: 9th September 2011 (DVD Premiere)

Director: Susan Jacobson

Cast: Vincent Regan, Kierston Wareing, Terry Stone,  Skye Lourie, Maisie Lloyd, Jarrod Cooke, Jake Curran, Mark Cooper Harris, Georgia Groome and David Bradley

Writer: James Dormer


images-2They’re back. Regan! Wareing! Stone! Last time I saw them they had been Bonded by Blood (though nothing in the film suggested to me that anyone had been bonded to anyone by blood but never mind). This time they’re at war… over The Holding. How can you resist? Quite easily perhaps if you’ve seen the earlier film. But that would be a mistake. Not a big mistake perhaps, The Holding is no masterpiece, but it is a cut above most of the piffle Brit Pic Dick has asked/ordered me to review.

The Holding in question is a farm run by single mum (Kierston Wareing – RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER) after she killed her evil hubby (with the help of wise salt-of-the-earth farmhand David Bradley – ANOTHER YEAR). This is not a spoiler – it’s the opening title sequence so that’s all right. But evil Terry Stone (OUTSIDE BET) wants the land and will stop at nothing to get it. He even stoops to such lows as making our heroine’s daughters late for school by locking gates. But who is this charismatic stranger Vincent Regan (ST. GEORGE’S DAY)? How does he fit into this tale of rural strife?

Whereas Bonded by Blood was a (just about) competent effort with a certain amateurish energy about it, this is like a proper film, which after The Reverend (2012) and Devil’s Playground comes as a welcome surprise. It’s not a great film, and it is indeed deeply, even fatally flawed, but it is actually a real film, with proper actors doing proper acting with a decent script and a director who knows what a film should look and sound like. More than that, it has a few tense moments, some reasonably believable characters, and a good sense of place. There’s also a good sense of sound. The director knows how to distort sound, how to use silence, both in terms of keeping the audience on their toes and in representing the characters’ increasing bewilderment.  It is the little directorial flourishes which, by and large, keep The Holding interesting. Plotwise, we’re for the most part in familiar territory. Early on we seem to be in the realm of films like The War Zone and the sort of rural, bleak Hungarian films where there’ll be a shot of a field and you see a tractor come into shot, cross the screen, go out of shot, and still not cut away for another twenty seconds. That doesn’t happen here (as far as I can recall) but it looks like it’s going to be that sort of film. There’s a recession on, and dead livestock, and a spooky Bible-bashing child. All these are good and powerful things. But just as no ITV thriller is complete without someone getting murdered, this film has to go and get itself a killer. As the bodies and the clichés pile up, the film maintains interest though one’s hopes for something a little out of the ordinary gradually ebb away. You will not be surprised that the conclusion involves a killer who survives electrocution, and there’s a big slow-motion explosion. Like in pretty much every film. (Brit Pic Dick may wish to cut some of that last bit nevertheless.) (.ed – it can stay).  And aside from the cliché sinister psycho-farmers, irritating teenagers and useless coppers, there are several other problems: everyone has a dark secret (farm worker, farmer, other farm worker, other farmer, other farmer’s son, daughter, other daughter, delivery man, corpse) and there are plot holes you could drive a tractor through (farm, tractor, geddit?) (no? – ed!)

There are two significant plot twists – one of which left me momentarily stunned (I know I shouldn’t have been but I was; I’ve been watching a lot of bad films remember) whilst the other really was a matter of the scriptwriter thinking ‘damn, how do I make this work? I know I’ll bung this in for now and come back to it later’ and then not coming back to it later. Twist number one is saved by the actors involved, but twist number two cannot be forgiven.

Vincent Regan, so peculiar in Bonded By Blood is much more effective here. It’s a solid, dependable performance. There aren’t many surprises, but at least you believe him this time. Terry Stone is oily and untrustworthy, which seems to be his usual screen persona, but there is one moment in particular where we cut through this and see that (without softening) there is a properly rounded character here. As for Kierston Wareing, I wanted to like her, but she seems to be too young for the role. I suppose she’s old enough to have a sixteen year old daughter, and I realise that part of the point of the film is that she’s a young mother who can’t cope with a farm, but she just doesn’t convince as someone in that position. Miscasting rather than a poor performance. That’s me sitting on the fence. What I mean is she needs to be (and seem) ten years older.

So with the moody shots and experimental sound, crossed with a crazed killer on the loose and skeletons tumbling out of cupboards, it is as if we have a film with two very different intentions. I get the feeling that the director probably wanted to make some sort of grim, realistic, yet impressionistic, grittily artisitc film about the recession, about the difficulties of living off the land, about mortality, something potentially pretentious and with dead animals. The producers, I guess, wanted a thriller, so they compromised, quite successfully all in all, until the film lurches into melodrama and the body count increases at an alarming rate. I could be wrong. But the good bits of the film tend to be to do with the intensely religious younger daughter, the struggles of farming, the unforgiving nature of the world. Although the thriller element is more than adequate, and at least at one point genuinely alarming, on the whole it is the sort of thing that is the stock-in-trade of thousands of straight-to-DVD films.

The heart sinks a little as each cliché comes along and chips away at all the good work elsewhere in the film, but it’s good to see someone making more of the material than is there.

5.5 out of 10 – review by JOE PESCI II – AKA MATT USHER



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