Palace Of Fun ***
Starring: George Stocks, Andrew Mullan, Phoebe Naughton
Director: Eadward Stocks
Named after the arcade on Brighton Pier, this British thriller is also set in Brighton, albeit a Brighton shot like the French Riviera. It’s a long hot summer and, told through a film that nods backwards and forwards referencing a whole host of other films, a romance gets extremely complicated when a Ripley-esque character throws his oar in.
Finn (Mullan) and Lily (Naughton) meet in a club. Lily invites Finn to stay at her parents’ house (or rather, mansion) for the weekend. What should be a romantic weekend is scuppered by Lily’s brother, Jamie (Stocks). Jamie wants to be the centre of attention but, feeling ignored, he snoops into Finn’s past online, coming across a small but potent piece of information about his past. Confronting Finn, he begins to manipulate him, both mentally and sexually, in a toxic attempt to insert himself in the middle of their relationship.
Jamie is a fascinating character whose motives seem indecipherable, even to himself. Whether he is constantly attention-seeking or just determined to ruin his sister’s life, his noxious behaviour eats away at the couple as they try to behave like normal people in love while he meddles from the sidelines. Lily and Finn are pretty innocuous characters, but alongside the Machiavellian Jamie, it’s probably better that they are about as exciting as the beach in the rain. With such an immovable object standing in their way, they don’t need other forces working against them.
From the opening credits, it’s clear that the filmmakers have pretensions of extreme intertextuality. Whether it’s the films that the characters are watching, or on-screen homage to various movies, the film is at full steam attempting to do an All About My Mother, where the composite parts of other films are reassembled as a new whole. But, unfortunately, it lacks the same kind of gravitas, because due to the director’s filmic reverence, he has forgotten to find his own voice amongst it. Which is a shame. However, it’s still fun to play “Guess The Film Reference”, from the recreated Some Like It Hot sequence to the sundrenched boat scenes that look like they were lifted directly from The Talented Mr Ripley.
The cinematography and music both do much to steer the film away from being pulp cinema, with beautifully shot sequences that make Brighton in summer appear isolated and forlorn underscored with screeching strings reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann. But with dialogue that appears stilted and obvious plus two of a trio of leads that are undeveloped and uninteresting, the film isn’t quite able to limp to the finish line resting on the power of its villain or its technical quality. I mean, the credits are quite something, but really that shouldn’t be the film’s highlight, should it?
However, praise has to go to George Stocks for his depiction of the privileged Jamie, who is a brilliant depiction of the product of 2017 Britain. An extreme version of Generation Z, he is a child of money, who believes that coming from wealth means he should be entitled to anything, even at the cost of his own family’s happiness. Sulking about between volatile rages, his dark energy is what gives the entire its film tension, pace and watchability. Not bad really for such a young actor.