Lily and Jamie are enjoying the fact that while it’s summer, they have their parents posh Sussex house to themselves. This idyll is disrupted when Lily brings her brand new boyfriend, Finn, into the house for the weekend.
Jamie seems uncertain about this interloper, who is gettin in the way of his time with his sister. However, when he discovers a secret about Finn, it sets off a series of events where blackmail develops into Jamie finding ways to satisfy his sexual desires and need for power.
Directed by first-time feature helmer Eadward Stocks and produced by him and his brothers David and George (who also co-writes and stars), Palace Of Fun is a homage to old school psychosexual thrillers, which attempts to create a sense of unsettled creepiness, where sex, class and unspoken feelings mix into an unsettled atmosphere. It’s also self-consciously indebted to author Patricia Highsmith and her anti-hero, Tom Ripley. Indeed, the Ripley echoes grow through the second half, as Jamie begins to reveal an increasingly disturbed personality, where his desires appear to want Jamie sexually and want power over him, but in a way where he also seems to want to be him so that he can vicariously deal with his perhaps sexual feelings for his sister.
Yet even there, it’s an oddly juvenile sexual aggression (again like Ripley), which erupts from the undercurrents of something potentially a lot simpler – the fact he wants to be with his sister for the summer and to bond with her like when they were kids.
All that sounds quite interesting and intriguing, but despite the relatively short runtime, it does take quite a while to get going. It’s worth the wait for when the unsettled feeling begins to grow between the three protagonists, but it undoubtedly takes a while to get there. Some won’t get past quite how little happens to start with, especially as it doesn’t exactly become the most eventful movie after that.
The viewer end sup in the slightly odd situation where they need to invest in the early boring bits – even though they aren’t exactly exciting – because it’s worth it for the later bits of the movie. If you do that it does pay off, as in the second half it becomes unsettling and weird in a good way. Maybe it’s not that eventful, but it’s suggestive and there’s certainly plenty of interesting subtext going on. Admittedly though, this does rely on the audience giving it a little leeway, as the performances needed to be exceptional to completely make this work. Unfortunately they’re not quite as subtle or intense as would have been preferable. They’re not bad, but it does mean the audience has to do a decent amount of the work to make it work.
The film also makes good use of its locations, making Brighton look more sexy and exotic that you’d ever expect of the East Sussex city, suffusing the whole thing with a sun-soaked and sexual air. Indeed, Eadward and cinematographer Murren Tullett demonstrate a good visual style and suggest they could have a real future in film.
But is it a gay film? Well, yes and no. It has an oddly gay air running through it, but the actual gay content is limited. To some viewers it could come across that everything gay about the movie is part of the perversion at the heart of the Jamie’s relationship with the world, and that it’s not really all that gay at all.That aspect is all very Tom Ripley – creating a homoerotic feeling where you’re not sure whether there ought to be one or not, and which may just be a stand-in for something else. It means the film is certainly intriguing, even if it can be a challenge at times.
Overall Verdict: Although it takes a long time to get going, Palace Of Fun becomes an intriguing psychosexual homage to Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, complete with homoerotic air.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac