A surprise trip organised for a birthday party turns to horror as the rising tide cuts off escape from the the town of Amen in this low budget horror. Pack supplies and prepare to defend yourself if you want to join Geek Chocolate on this road trip.
Currently touring as part of the programme of POUT, which has superseded the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, this is a modest British horror film from debut writer/director team Mark Harriott and Mike Matthews. Reminiscent of The Wicker Man in the clash between modern life and an isolated community, its strength lies in the performances set against the strikingly captured scenery.
Unbeknownst to girlfriend Sadie (Christina De Vallee), Rick (David Paisley) has been trying to locate her long lost family, and he has arranged a surprise weekend away for her birthday, when he hopes to introduce her to elder sister Corinne (Jill Riddiford), not seen since their mother drowned when Sadie was two years old. Accompanying them on the trip is Jonny (Jonathan Keane), friend to both and Rick’s occasional lover.
Initially unlikeable, the characters open up as their tangled relationship unravels. Brash and snappy, Sadie is unhappy Rick has refused to reveal their destination, but he is doing so because he knows Sadie would refuse otherwise, as the village of Amen is accessible only when the tide is out via a long strip of road across the mudflats. Jonny, rather than a clinging jealous lover, is in many ways more devoted to Rick than Sadie, though he has secrets of his own.
Upon arrival, the trio are immediately wary of the locals, and with good reason, as every rural cliché is knowingly rolled out in front of them, the ubiquitous photograph of the same man in every place they visit – “He’s everyone’s father, he’s the father of the island.” Accompanied by Lyn Sangster’s excellent folky soundtrack, which degenerates to electronic discord as the tide cuts the island off from the mainland, hostility emerges from behind the lurking scarecrows as the doctrine of the locals becomes apparent – “We don’t ask questions here or we go to Hell.”
While beautifully filmed throughout, after a while the repeated interstitials of rolling water and cloud saturated sky serve no function other than to extend the film to feature length, and the slow menace of the film never really justifies its potential, a victim of its own quiet ambitions, and manages nothing of the conviction of another recently released low budget British horror, Kill List.
Unfortunately, technical proficiency and imaginative typefaces in the man credits do not make up for the disappointment of the amateur final scenes, not only the suspension of disbelief when Sadie spectacularly fails to release her companions from their captivity, but when the violence is unleashed, the fake blood resembles nothing so much as strawberry jam. Considering how effective the earlier scene of Sadie’s nightmare of drowning in her own bed is, it is clear the team could have achieved more.
Unhappy Birthday has now been repackaged on DVD as Amen Island