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Set in a remote location in the English countryside of Somerset, psychological drama Help feels appropriately claustrophobic and isolated. It’s no surprise that the production further adds to this sense of isolation, shot as it was under lockdown conditions over twelve days, with the cast and crew remaining in their own bubble throughout the process. In his debut feature film director Blake Ridder et al have crafted a tense thriller that is very in touch with the fraught year it emerged from.
After a painful break-up with her long-distant partner, Grace (Emily Redpath) decides to get out of London to visit her college friend, Liv (Sarah Alexandra Marks), in order to celebrate the birthday of Liv’s boyfriend Edward (Louis James). As Grace’s visit extends into the next day the friendships between the three begin to unravel as we learn more about their hidden histories shaped over the last year during the lifetime of Liv and Edward’s relationship. Through Help’s non-linear narrative we progressively discover the infidelities, violence and backstabbing under the surface of their seemingly tranquil existence.
Where Help excels is in its creation of atmosphere: cinematographer Samuel Pearce is not afraid to let the camera linger, giving the characters space to grow in their quiet moments. This is helped along massively by the actors whose performances convey compelling and intriguing emotion while remaining satisfyingly enigmatic. Redpath, Marks and James do an excellent job of signalling nuanced and varied levels of intimacy or distance towards each other, depending on the requirements of their spiralling situation.
Inspired costume work is an excellent tool in the non-sequential narrative: often the characters’ clothing is the first clue that anything has changed. The other clue is the change in weather. This may have been utilised rather typically to demonstrate a change from optimism to gloom, but is undeniably effective and visually impressive. Clichés are clichés for a reason (and in this instance it’s a very good reason).
In other words, Help is an impressive genre film which is at its best when playing to its conventions. At times the script may feel a little sparse but it nevertheless tells an effective story of betrayals, double-crossing and revelations that will keep the viewer guessing. At the film’s centre are three compelling characters – or arguably four when one includes director Ridder’s character, Liv and Edward’s neighbour David, the mysterious observer whose curiosity pulls him into the groups’ chaos – whose intertwining experiences create a satisfying and entertaining thriller.