You couldn’t call this audacious British debut a success; it’s too arch, awkward and over-extended for that. But, oddly, it’s those very same qualities which make it arresting to watch and which mark out its two directors as talents to keep an eye on. Helen (Annie Townsend) is a plain-faced 17 year old in foster care who works part-time as a hotel cleaner and whose college mate Joy has disappeared in the woods of a town that looks and sounds like it might be Newcastle but is never identified. When the police arrive at Joy’s college looking for a stand-in for a reconstruction, they pick Helen, who takes to wearing Joy’s yellow coat, flirting with her boyfriend and even seeking help with her homework from Joy’s father. This is all executed in a peculiar, spooky fashion: long takes, disjointed episodes, a mixture of wide shots and a series of close-ups. The photography is striking – but even more striking is how extraordinarily wooden the performances and the dialogue are.
Is this simply bad filmmaking? Or is it an experiment that only half works? I’d go for the latter. What the directors are seeking is a metaphysical spin on a realistic set-up: an attempt to get inside and explore Helen’s head with a big, credible event as backdrop. We must assume, though, that Helen’s encounters are flights of fancy for a girl who has never enjoyed the same comforts as her peers, so the film is good on ideas of identity and how youngsters can project others’ lives onto their own to survive. It doesn’t fully work, but its daring is enough to recommend it.