Writers: Lawrence Gough, Terry Hughes and Alan Pattison
Director: Lawrence Gough
With an exciting opening shot of a car racing through flat countryside (Essex, Norfolk?) as the sky turns red at dusk or perhaps at dawn, Lawrence Gough’s film promises to be a classy, if chilly affair. Gatecrash is certainly a claustrophobic thriller, but it can’t quite escape its theatrical origins.
Based on Terry Hughes’ play, Gatecrash throws us into the action immediately. A couple come home to a house full of labyrinthine corridors and with, it seems, just one window that overlooks the horizontal fields beyond. The husband and wife are arguing, but it takes a while to work out what the conflict is about. He’s hit someone with his car; he’s drunk; he wants the wife to take the blame; he didn’t just knock someone over, but reversed to run over them again.
Steve (Ben Cura) is a coward, beating up his wife to get her to admit that the accident – though was it an accident? – was her fault. Nicole (French actor Olivia Bonamy) has to walk a fine line around her husband, not wanting to be controlled by him, but wary not to enrage him more. The quarrel stops for a few minutes as she goes to the bathroom, discreetly taking a pregnancy testing kit with her. When she returns, the argument resumes.
After 10 minutes, the story has not moved on, and the script’s circularity may work well on the stage but it doesn’t work as well on screen. The screen demands quicker results. Thankfully, the sudden ring of the telephone interrupts their fight, and as the film moves into thriller territory Gough excels in creating tension as more phones ring and car lights seep through thin curtains. As the couple creeps through the house’s endless passageways and where door-handles are suddenly thick with blood, Gatecrash momentarily becomes a superior horror.
When Samuel West’s policeman unexpectedly arrives (like the policeman in The Mousetrap), the film slips back into theatre. West’s policeman may be ominous on stage, but on camera he’s too much of a caricature, his presence ruining any verisimilitude that the director may have wanted. Theatre can get away with such characters (Pinter comes to mind), but in film, as the camera gets so close, a more muted performance is often preferable.
Anton Lesser, another gatecrasher in the house, has a better time of things, and copes with a script that maddeningly takes too long to get anywhere, reversing too many times to go back to the start, and diluting the tension that perhaps it’s meant to create. Here Nicole is caught between two abusers, and Bonamy’s understated acting comes as a relief and she doesn’t signal any of her character’s decisions. Cura’s Steve lacks any depth, and is fairly repellent all the way through, cowering behind his wife when they go and see who’s knocking at the door.
But what makes this movie worth watching is Gough’s skill when it comes to action, and these physical battles – far superior to the verbal sparring – are energetically filmed from the handheld cameras that follow Steve and Nicole through the maze of corridors to the shots of speeding cars in the middle of the night that come in the film’s third act. With a limited set and a limited budget, Gough creates an unnerving atmosphere as well as a few thrills.
With an impressive CV that includes Dr Who and Vera, Gough’s move to feature film is a striking one. He may have come late to the party, but he’s a welcome gatecrasher for sure.
Released digitally on 22 February 2020