Writer and Director: D. R. Hood
Stylishly filmed with various cameras including an iPhone, Us Among The Stones tells the story of a dysfunctional family gathered round a dying mother in a farmhouse in Dartmoor. Although set in the modern day, Dictynna Hood’s film, now available on YouTube, harks back to ancient Greek myths or Medieval legends in its representation of family and inheritance. Secrets are revealed in the atmospheric drama, but they remain stubbornly cryptic, and this is both the film’s attraction and its undoing.
Owen has returned to his family home for his mother’s birthday, and it’s obvious that it will be her last. As he walks up to the house, he’s haunted by memories, and these come in the form of sepia-tinted photographs and Super8 home movies. They intersperse nearly every scene like a filmic stream of consciousness, demonstrating how easily recollections of the past seep into our here and nows. Startlingly, Hood also takes photographs of the present, painterly and uncanny, as if these images also come from Owen’s long-term memory.
Hood’s multi-media approach is reminiscent of Britain’s last real auteur, Derek Jarman, and his short films such as Journey to Avebury. Here Jarman celebrated the English countryside, and its mysterious and ancient history on a pilgrimage to circles of standing stones. In Hood’s film, we see photos of the farmland and the wider moors both from years ago and from now, while the characters talk about stone circles and Stonehenge. Ghosts walk down empty corridors, as time threatens to collapse in upon itself.
Owen is soon joined by his two brothers. Danny, is the most affable, and most like his parents in that he is a free-spirit, travelling the world. Jack, on the other hand, is a bit of a bully, and the air in the house visibly sours when he arrives with his second wife, who carries around a plastic baby, but which still cries like a real one. No one mentions that the baby is a doll, and we can only hope that it’s a further enigma from Hood, rather than a substitute for the real thing with Hood crossing her fingers that the audience doesn’t notice.
Some may baulk at Hood’s choice of actor to play Owen, but Laurence Fox hadn’t quite alienated himself from the world when this film was made. In January this year, Fox complained about the presence of a Sikh in the film 1917, suggesting that his presence was a result of political correctness, seemingly unaware that Sikhs had fought in the First World War. And just recently Fox has called for people to boycott Sainsbury’s because of the supermarket’s Christmas advert that features a black family. While Fox’s acting is perfectly decent in this film, his reputation goes before him and that may be one reason that this film hasn’t turned up on the usual digital film platforms.
Although Fox is the leading star in Us Among The Stones, Owen is not a likeable character, but then none of the characters are, and neither are the wives and girlfriends that the sons bring along with them. Only the daughter seems grounded, but she may as well be one of the ghosts that glide throughout the story we see so little of her. They all argue and fight, jealousies are stirred and tempers are frayed. But despite all this unpleasantness, we are still eager for the secrets to be unearthed and thank god for the rewind on YouTube as the secret may need several plays to be wholly understood.
Fox’s decent acting is repeated by his co-stars, with Greg Hicks as the aggressive Jack, and Jethro Skinner as the hapless Danny. Raia Haidar gives a solid performance as Owen’s ex-wife, but Oliver Cotton struggles to convey the patriarch as a hippy, Bohemian farmer. Fortunately, Anna Calder-Marshall does convince as his wife, and even in her dying retains something of the melodramatic. But the house is full of characters, and even the plastic baby gets a name in the credits.
The story may be ridiculous, but there’s no denying Hood’s experimental vision and we can only hope that in the future this aesthetic finds the right narrative. This overblown family drama ultimately needs to be stripped bare so we can see the stunning film underneath.
Runs here until 18 December 2020