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September 2011

Bane

cast: Lisa Devlin, Sophie Dawnay, Tina Barnes, Sylvia Robson, and Jonathan Sidgwick

director: James Eaves

108 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Safecracker DVD Region 2

RATING: 2/10
review by Paul Higson

Bane

I have previously written that many of the pack of modern horror British directors if not launching their career on a strong note have, over the space of the last ten years, progressed and since provided at least one film of respectable quality. Of that 1990s and 2000s wild bunch there are only one or two on which I am still not sold and one of them is James Eaves. Whereas his former colleague Johannes Roberts recently turned out the highly polished and thrilling 'F', Eaves latest film Bane only suggests stunted growth.

Bane was first announced several years ago and has been in slow gestation and an even slower post-production. There appears to have been no technical advancement, no increase in budget nor any improvement in the writing craft since his 2000 film Sanatorium (aka: Diagnosis). Eaves seems incapable of learning from past mistakes or of distancing himself from the film to see what we see. Either he is deceiving himself or trying to deceive us.

Certainly, as we look back, particularly at the Hollywood machine of 20 and 30 years ago, the cost of making a movie meant that nobody was going to risk gobbing the truth about a film before its release. Dissidence was rare and, to this day, bland promotional sound-bite interviews promote many films. With smaller budgets it has recently proven possible to encounter a little more honesty. Jonathan Glendenning, for example, is unable to suppress his frustrations on his own movies, particularly the behaviour of the producers. Unusually, as shown in the commentary accompanying the DVD release of his film S.N.U.B. you hear a director taking the film to pieces, remarking painfully on discrepancies that have largely escaped the notice of the casual viewer, and to some extent he is even robbing a film of some of its values in the process; flagging up the bad and forgetting or failing to notice the good.

Eaves' approach is the opposite and, in accompanying on-screen interviews, comes across as a nice guy (which may be part of the problem) but you are, by the end of the film and the supporting evidence (as it becomes), in a quandary has to how to take him. Is he deluded or purely ignorant as to how disastrous his films are? There is one thing that Eaves does target and get right which is in the casting of his four female leads. He is aware that he needs good performers and he has shopped around, returning with a quartet of very game and accomplished actresses.

Sophia Dawnay, Lisa Devlin, Sylvia Robson and Tina Barnes acquit themselves well. Neither has he allowed himself to be swayed by looks, not that any of the girls are unattractive, but neither are the four the outright catwalk models favoured by most modern directors. The ordinariness of the girls helps to a certain extent as the four are a more credible unit and less of a fantasy quartet. More kudos to the lasses then that their block talent survives in the given movie as little else is believable in Bane.

The story is a deliberately muddled perspectives horror mystery as four girls awaken in a room with no memory or history and only a first-name tag on their wrists as a starting point. Interrogated and terrorised they, one-by-one, find themselves scarred with a number which is eventually interpreted as a time to the minute, the forthcoming moment in which they are scheduled to meet their demise. Each girl gets her emotional shot at being centre stage and there is a directorial focus on their interaction, but the shoddiness surrounds them and the story is not original enough to ascend the cheapness.

Eaves and Roberts veteran Harold Gasnier is on hand, the production Rumpelstiltskin, throwing together props and sets out of nothing. But it is Blue Peter's advent calendar and Tracy Island in its results. His corridors are no more than metal fencing panels grounded in blocks, the kind you find on building sites, backed by milky foggy plastic sheets. It is a dismal and basic backdrop and in the supporting interviews Eaves tries to convince us that this is all intentional and that, obviously taking his cue from others who cite a set or prop (like the car in Greg Swinson and Ryan Thiessen's Five Across The Eyes), the fence and plastic becomes a fifth leading character.

But the car in Five Across The Eyes was a frantic witness to the events, an often frozen companion but essentially also their protector and their rescuer; it carried with it several human capacities, at times useless, at others essential. You get none of this with the sets of Bane and Eaves jabber is based on an attempt to apply this model on his own film without understanding it. The incessancy of this backdrop is supposed to nag at us, he tells us, but to what end and to what effect. It is true, it does nag us, but only with the repeat message of how cheap and awful the set design is.

The set and the thrown together props and 'furnishings' make the sets for Microwave Massacre look like Gosford Manor by comparison. The director also enthuses about the originality of his premise because it is a mix of horror, science fiction and prison movies. This, of course, only suggests that Eaves should see more films. The repeated attempts to big up on what is so obviously mediocre can only annoy us more.

A monster hints of something special but there is no courage in giving it a full frontal and decent close-up. Neither does Eaves know how to close the film and strings it out to a point of greater irritation, bringing the whole farrago in at a painful 108 minutes when most good filmmakers these days seem to be returning to a grind-house 90 minutes or less and satisfying us in that. Eaves did have an alternative beginning which could have given his film bigger scope with a battle in woodland. But this would have robbed the film of the mysteries he deemed more important. The film therefore cribs from other movies that begin on or progress quickly to a mystery in a room, as in Cube, Saw, Fermat's Room, Exam, and El Metodo. But what each of those other films has which Eaves doesn't is the skill to keep the momentum up and the solidity of production values that make all of them naturally far superior. In trying to emulate them Eaves has only put his film forward for miserable comparison.

Apart from the actresses there are a few minor pluses including the editing which Eaves appears to be showcasing himself for, with several frantic scenes in which the panicking and fighting girls are subjected to quick cuts which are well-matched as they switch attention. But this again is ultimately lost amidst the tawdry distractions of props and sets and disappears under the rubble of a story that ultimately fails.

Neither does Eaves do himself any favours with the accompanying material on the DVD which includes four and a half minutes of deleted scenes, 11 minutes of outtakes and a one-hour long 'making of' documentary. The deleted scenes only present us with an alternative version that might have been notionally more thrilling. The outtakes, and remember there are 11 minutes of them, make the production even more amateurish and even take bites out of the few positive aspects of the film. In seeing the girls repeatedly corpse it removes some of the good impression that they make in the film alone. We also find the director breaking up with laughter far too frequently and ruining shots; the result is more embarrassing than amusing. To compare these outtakes to those in Matthew Daniel's Powerless, another independent British film I caught recently, his outtakes were quirky and varied, raising a cheer, if having a similar effect in spoiling the seeming immaculacy of the performances of his young stars. But in the Bane outtakes reel there is nothing to amuse and it becomes tiresome instead.

The making-of documentary generously gives most of the cast and crew some recognition and further suggests that Eaves is an almighty nice guy but when, for example, you learn that it was shot in a working warehouse and that on weekdays the noises where endless, and you are allowed to hear them, you really question how Eaves can come to such a location decision so far into his career. Even if you can edit out the background noises in post, you have to show respect to his performers in providing them with a controllable location that does not repeatedly interfere with their ability to perform, particular when, as these girls are, they are giving it all. Even a first time director would try and avoid that mistake. It does answer the question why, this time, there are no celebrity guest spots in his latest film. Stephanie Beecham would not have stood for this.



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