6.5 out of 10
Release Date: 1st May 2009
Director: Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor (Mister John)
Cast: Annie Townsend, Sandie Malia, Dennis Jobling, Sonia Saville, Danny Groenland
Writer: Christine Molloy & Joe Lawler
Helen was made by people from outer space. There is an overbearing sense of otherworldliness to this unusual film. A combination of its immersive soundtrack, prowling camera and disconnected performances emphasise a feeling of deep unease. If this film was set in Scandinavia or Europe and in a foreign language it woud have made a decent splash on the Art House scene in the UK. Being that it’s a Britpic, there is an unfortunate sense that this is just a little too self-important for it’s own good. The main element that lets Helen down are the unorthodox performances. Now I’m not sure if it’s because the cast could not act or it was a style that they were all co-erced to opt into by the makers. Either way, this has created a huge gulf in trying to identify with the characters. What we’re left with besides the soundtrack and camera work is a very economic yet oddly off-kilter script, which I liked a lot. The plot was slight but here’s an intro nonetheless.
A teenager called Joy goes missing in the woods. Helen (ANNIE TOWNSEND) is recruited by the police to act as Joy’s ‘stand-in’ in a TV re-enactment to help jog peoples’ memories and hopefully lead to her being found. Picked for her physical resemblance, Annie slowly becomes obsessed with Joy and those she left behind. Wearing an identical yellow leather jacket to the one owned by the missing girl, she begins to get to know Joy’s parents and boyfriend (DANNY GROENLAND).
There are several sequences in Helen that impressed me a great deal. The opening sequence that sees Joy (or are we watching the TV recreation) walk across the park to the woods in slow motion is especially haunting. Scenes that take in the tree canopy as if looking up from the ground feature frequently too, as if Helen is trying to see through Joy’s eyes. Another sequence where a female police officer (SONIA SAVILLE) addresses some college students about the ‘world outside’ is particularly creepy and alien. The characters have a strange detached quality disconnecting the actors from their performances. The exception to this is the lead, Annie Townsend, who thoroughly convinces as the unsettled protagonist. She confesses that her dream is to be ‘anywhere else’ but is secretly pretending to be somebody else going to help her in the long run? The use of a handful of spartan and clean cut locations also adds to the sense of alienation and foreboding. Every single frame is immaculate.
I’m not sure I’d recommend this film to everybody because it is very slow paced and only part resolves one of the main through-plots. Some may see the acting as wooden and just plain bad, but I think it was just the style the director has required. The same plot would make for an interesting story again one day, but for now we can marvel at this quiet story about one of cinema lands‘ lost loners with weird ideas about the world around them.
6.5 out of 10 – Beautiful but painfully slow mystery that never really addresses it’s more obvious plot turns. Essentially, Helen is a mood piece and the kind of UK film we see all too rarely nowadays. Great score, weird script, wonderful camera work, peculiar acting methods. Worth a crack if you’re patient. And it’s probably the most disturbing film with a PG rating you’ll ever see. Don’t show it to your kids, you’ll even creep them out for life, or you’ll never wake them up. Look out for their follow up Mister John which adopts the same style but thankfully ditches the strange actors.
THE CAST ARE UNKNOWNS