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The Sick House
cast: Gina Philips, Alex Hassell, Kellie Shirley, Andrew Knott, and Jack Bailey

director: Curtis Radclyffe

86 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Showbox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 2/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Expectations were high on Curtis Radclyffe's The Sick House. The film had been a long time coming and had the title, the talent and an iconic figure haunting the design in the unique shape of beak-masked plague doctor. Then the talent began to slip from the project. Manchester-based crime novelist Phil Caveney was the first to move away from the project and he now sports a co-story acknowledgement alongside the director instead of the intended script credit. By the time the film was ready to roll, highly sought after cinematographer Anthony Dods-Mantel, long allied with the project, had also gone, though in 2006 he informed me that it was the on-off nature of the production and the timing that put paid to his involvement and there was no shadow of discontent surrounding his departure.

The screenplay was completed and one assumes rewritten out of shape by Radclyffe, and Romla Walker (who puts in a highly professional performance in the film in a small role that outclasses everyone else on screen), while the cinematography was handed to Sam McCurdy. Dods-Mantel could be accused of being the man who unsettled cinematography, best known for his digital work, and at the time of the shooting of The Sick House he was at work on Brothers Of The Head in which a variety of formats and styles were skilfully brought into play to represent different periods in a 'biographical' history captured in the moving media. Dods-Mantel, however, creates a visual wave on which the story can ride and the many pretenders have been badly taught, picking up nasty habits, and McCurdy is one such camera-wielding miscreant. This is not to drop the entire ton of blame on McCurdy, the rot goes much deeper than this, and others hold greater responsibility.

But I urgently want to attack this style of camerawork and encourage others to denounce it, attacking the filmmakers who attack us with this dreadful jitter-cam work. This is an emergency! It does not fucking work! Are they all stupid? Can they not work it out? Stop shivering the camera! Stop fuzzing the image! Stop sharp jumping in and out of images! Stop fast panning! None of it helps in the thriller genre. Jitter-cam interrupts and interferes with story. A static camera, slow pans and economic editing assist in the storytelling and relax the viewer for the jolts, which are then felt more potently.

The blind instruction given to or assumed by the cameraman appears to be keeping it jittery and the viewer will, by some idiotic parallel logic, become as jittery in their person. No! Jitter-cam equals a different king of agitation, an unwanted aggravation. A security man is attacked but the schismatic sequence of shots and edits leaves one baffled as to the outcome and you come not to care. Can I avail of people seeing jitter-cam crud-vision work bouncing across their local Odeon screen to holler: 'keep that fuckering camera still!' Make it a cry up and down the land. Particularly at film festivals when the makers may be present. Truth is, you are unlikely to see jitter-cam crud-vision on a large screen as up there, in big, it is even more un-watchable and distributors are already alert to that. Make films in this way and you may as well label your film straight-to-DVD, back to the shelf or immediate to the bin.

The disappointment refuses to stop there. In the 'making-of' that accompanies the film the producer, Charlotte Wontner, provides us with some very unconvincing reasoning behind the decisions made in the story set-up. A group of teenagers in trouble is a popular model "for obvious reasons," so a group of teenagers is their core cast of characters. Obviously, crap dialogue is also very popular in the mainstream horror film so they gave us that, too. In her spare time the producer also follows lemmings off the edge of a cliff. The behind the scenes material runs 16 minutes and only helps condemns the production. The young actors take us through the 'to fuck' conjugation table. Twenty percent of the dialogue seems to be fuck, fuck, fuck. The exception is the imported token American (Gina Philips) who actually uses 'goddamn'. One of the youths calls the police 'pigs'. Thankfully, none of the characters are over 30 or we might also have heard reference to bobbies on the beat. The youths are 'goths', but goths who act like chavs.

They hotwire cars, the only girl is pregnant, and for the first half of the film her scenes are so badly shot only the exclamation from the girl herself that she is pregnant and other characters noticing that she is pregnant informs you, the viewer, that she is pregnant. It sounds as if her company are such dolts that they might actually have forgotten, forgotten the facts of life even. It is not until she is naked with a prosthetic tummy that you realise the character is heavily pregnant. She must have been using a corset under the black threads.

So they race a stolen car at high speed around the streets at night with and heavily pregnant girl in the backseat, no seatbelt. Why then do the idiots start giving a crap about one another when the supernatural starts laying into them, and why should we? A deaf youth in the group appears to have learned his BSL from Lionel Blair and Una Stubbs. The actor, Jack Bailey, hints at another of the reasons why this film came to so little. The players, unlike the sharp, intelligent young female cast of Five Across The Eyes, are not the smartest set. Bailey, in the support featurette, informs us that his character's "also been deaf since birth. So he don't say much; he don't like the sound of his own voice." I think this gives us an idea of how much consideration has been given by the actors and the makers to their characters. None. Andrew Knott, another of the goth nots, tells us that Radclyffe has "good communication skills. Some directors don't have it. They get what they want still but they don't have a way of communicating it!" Then it doesn't matter then, does it? Name these grunting genii though.

The plot? None of that is important amidst this wealth of embarrassments. I will throw in a little bit of unapologetic trivia. Pat Higgins is credited with extra work and then shortly after made Hellbride, which also included the image of the plague doctor, quite atmospherically in an often-silly film. Naughty! One of the young American archaeologist's students, at the back of the class, doing nothing, is Jake Crimmin, who took the lead in a short film called 'The Halo Thing', directed by Ben McCorry, stuck in post-production, good script though, written by someone called Paul Higson.

Radclyffe and company have failed their film, and they have failed their audience. There is no excuse for this, particularly Curtis Radclyffe who has shown us previously that he is perfectly capable of making a decent horror film. That was his 1997 film Sweet Angel Mine. The Sick House is a film we thought might never get made, and one now which we wish never was. Useful trailers indicate that Kokoda: 39th Batallion and Ghost Game might be interesting, Dark Ride is a more upmarket version of Frightworld, and that Dead Man's Cards, Apartment 3103 and The Sick House don't look very good.
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