Lloyd Eyre-Morgan’s directorial debut, Dream On, hit DVD last summer, and now he’s back with Celluloid, a movie that’s part kitchen sink drama, part thriller, with a little bit of horror movie thrown in as well. It sounds like an odd mix, but it works surprisingly well, thanks to interesting characters and a well-observed look at life.
Our protagonist is Josh (Daniel Booth), a 15-year-old boy who’s coming to terms with his sexuality. He has a major crush on his straight best friend – who shares his love of making films – but has yet to tell anyone he’s gay. However coming out isn’t his first priority as his homelife is tough. His mother, Dawn (Janet Bamford), has mental health issues and seems poised for another breakdown.
These problems have already led his older sister Nicola (Olivia Sweeney) to rebel and spend most of her time out with her best friend, drinking and sniffing poppers – which leads her into the sphere of the potentially dangerous Barnsey (Shameless’ Jody Latham). This leaves Josh trying to deal with his mother, who to the outside world seems perfectly normal, but at home flits between bouts of anger, crying and deep neediness.
Dawn’s problems stem from her claims that she was terribly abused as a child. However the memories only resurfaced after regression therapy, and most people, including her own family, say none of her accusations are actually true. They say it’s a case of false memory syndrome and it’s all in her head. However Dawn is determined these things are real. Whether they are or not, it becomes increasingly difficult for Josh to handle, with his only outlet being another gay guy he starts chatting to online.
Celluloid juggles a lot of issues and styles, and it would have been easy for the whole thing to come across as rather contrived. However both the script and the actors make sure they stick to the essential truth of each of the characters. They’re all trying to muddle through in difficult circumstances. Each is flawed, but their faults are understandable and make sense. There are no villains, although as with all families people do things that hurt each other, even if that’s not what their main aim is.
Working on a tiny budget, the film does a great job of drawing you in and making you empathise with Josh and his family. Although both Dawn and Nicola initially seem rather selfish and dedicated to heaping pressure on Josh’s shoulders, as the film goes on new layers are revealed and you can understand where both are coming from. Despite all the problems that surround them, there is love there.
The family drama is well-observed, probably helped a lot by the fact that certain elements were inspired by Lloyd Eyre-Morgan’s own experiences growing up. You get the feeling he understands these people, mixed with a certain melancholy about the situation they find themselves in. And that really comes across in the finished film.
Everything could have fallen apart when Celluloid starts introducing thriller and horror movie elements, but it mostly works thanks to the fact the family drama has already heightened the tension. Josh has also spent much of the movie shooting things on a video camera, both as part of his video projects and because he remembers things better if he films something (an idea that is brought into sharp focus towards the end). This ensures that towards the end it doesn’t seem as if we’ve fallen into a completely different movie when he starts creeping around a basement in night vision.
There are a few issues, partly because Celluloid has to slightly sidestep some of the issues it has raised in order to extricate itself from the situation it’s gotten itself into. This should be a major problem, but it’s not too bad as the film always stays true to its characters, so even when events gently tease credulity it still feel true to Josh, Dawn and Nicola.
Celluloid largely manages to steer clear of the problems that have plagued many micro-budget ventures – terrible acting, muddy audio and a script that clumsily tries to paper over the cracks. It succeeds by making you care about the characters and particularly the tough situation Josh finds himself – coming to terms with his sexuality while dealing with an incredibly difficult home situation.
Overall Verdict: British gay-themed movie can be very variable, but Celluloid transcends its tiny budget with a tense, moving story that gets you hooked in and caring about what happens to Josh and his family.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac