Writer and Director: Blake Ridder
Within the first few minutes of Blake Ridder’s new movie Help, filmed in just 12 days during lockdown, the female lead is given a serious relationship ultimatum by her erstwhile boyfriend and almost runs over West End and former Blue singer Duncan James jogging on a country road – his only and entirely tangential appearance in the movie. It is fair to say Ridder has our attention, and largely holds on to it with a psychodrama in which everyone has a nasty secret.
With her personal life hanging in the balance, Grace drives to the countryside to surprise best friend Liv who lives with boyfriend Ed. Put out by their unexpected guest, the couple make Grace feel welcome, but with an unspecified tension in the house everyone is ill at ease. As memories of Liv and Ed’s 10-month relationship fill Grace’s mind, more than one secret threatens to ruin the weekend.
There are lots of strands within Help that build an uncomfortable tone; using Grace’s point of view primarily, the film takes a classic dramatic premise, the arrival of an outsider, and uses it to drive the tension in a confined space. It quickly becomes clear to the audience that something is not quite right in this household and Ridder employs flashback and eavesdropping techniques to generate a feeling of unease that permeates the story. There are overheard conversations through too-thin walls and open doorways, while neighbour David, like Ben in Rebecca, silently observes activities he should not, becoming a catalyst for the conclusion.
Ridder’s use of misdirection is interesting, leading the audience down various avenues that eventually tie up, and while the savvy viewer may wonder early on why Grace is buying Ed expensive cigars after so short an acquaintance, Ridder ensures that these events ultimately link together coherently, even if some of the revelations are less surprising.
None of the characters is sympathetic however and the audience is never rooting for them. Even when all the plot twists are resolved, everyone has behaved badly enough to deserve their eventual ending. There are some excessively clunky moments in the screenplay that jettison convincing dialogue for melodramatic effect including a strange moment when Grace casually mentions children and Liv storms off with the phrase ‘thanks for reminding me I’m infertile’ which is not how women behave even on the most sensitive subjects.
The acting is a little stilted in places and Louis James never seems entirely at ease with Ed whose character fluctuates throughout a film that, perhaps confusingly, asks James to be sometimes smug, thoughtful, irresistible, caring and a potential villain while directing some unforgivable invective at Ridder’s harmless David. Sarah Alexandra Marks brings innocence with an undertone of possessiveness to Liv who needs constant reassurance from those around her while developing a chemistry with Emily Redpath as best friend Grace who anchors the film well as she tries to piece together what is really going on.
The management of tension and plot revelations is key to a solid thriller and Ridder certainly keeps the audience guessing until the final moments with a film that generally delivers on surprises. With a planned summer release Ridder has achieved a lot in a short time and in restricted circumstances, and Help is an enjoyably bleak examination of human relationships.
Released in Summer 2021