The Estate – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Director: Dean Craig

It is rare to see a movie that has very little merit and not since David Mamet’s egregious Bitter Wheat has a writer so grossly misjudged the content and presentation of their work. Like Mamet, David Craig’s comedy The Estate also decides that sexual violence against women is an appropriate basis for comedy and that its characters are so deserving of a multi-million-dollar inheritance that they risk putting a young woman into an unprotected scenario with someone on the sex-offender’s register. This film should never have been commissioned and feels out of place at the BFI London Film Festival 2022 where it is screening alongside progressive and important films like Palm Trees and Powerlines and Declaration.

Desperate to get their hands on their cranky aunt’s money, sisters Savannah and Macey travel to her bedside for what they think will be her final days. When they arrive, they find their cousins had the same idea and over several days the group battle to be the primary beneficiaries of Aunt Hilda’s will. Prepared to stop at nothing to get what they want Savannah and Macey track down an old high school crush of Hilda’s which they hope will give them the edge.

Craig has written a frat-boy comedy that starts with someone emptying a colostomy bag and continuous its tiresome game of one-upmanship between a group of venal relatives that misses the mark at every opportunity. Craig’s women are entirely unconvincing, either cantankerous old bags like Hilda, the very idea of her body and sexuality played as one big joke, drippy divorcees like Macey who just need to hold on to a man to keep them happy or Savannah’s soulless gold-digger who will do anything for money. When Savannah asks if Macey showed her breasts to the bank manager to get a loan in the first few minutes of the film, you’ll feel your feminist hackles squirming immediately. And it’s all downhill from there.

The humour is pretty vulgar and often coarse, there is a place for that in movies, but it just feels so hollow in The Estate, a film that describes itself as a dark comedy but really pitches at the rom-com gross-out market who enjoy the extremes of physical humour with a happy ending. Because the audience is supposed to care about these terrible people, to actually want one of them to ‘beat’ the others and get to Hilda’s money and Craig puts us to the test through cringey competitive catering and flower-giving, even trying to convince 40-something James (related only by marriage) to have sex with the much older Hilda. Hilarious? Absolutely not and when James decides enough is enough and orders a cab to take him away from this house and his awful marriage, boy do we wish we were going with him.

But the film saves its most offensive material for the grand finale in which the sisters hire a known sex offender to seduce Hilda. Craig, at this point, decides that being a ‘flasher’ is a lesser sex crime and, despite being on a register, that it is appropriate to encourage the character of Bill to expose himself to their younger sister Ellen who is convinced to do this for the possibility of $20 million. Everything about this scenario – which is the film’s big cumulative scene – is disgusting; using this as comedy only reduces and legitimises it, making light of the trauma of the assault directed at Ellen; that Bill has no idea what is going to happen; that Savanna and Macey think they deserve to do this to their sister to make up for their drab lives not to mention the deeply problematic moment when they expose the unconscious Bill’s penis themselves are appalling story points and the latter is just abuse even if the man has a criminal record.

How this film got through the commissioning process at Sky is unclear and how it attracted big stars like Toni Collette to play Macey, Anna Faris as Savannah and David Duchovny as cousin Dick whose sole contribution is to covet money and try to have sex with any of his cousins. And you feel for the great Kathleen Turner as Hilda whose only role is to be an object of scorn based entirely on her age. Turner is so much better than that. There is nothing here that makes spending 90-minutes in this horrible world worthwhile. And writers please note, sexual violence against women is never funny and non-consensual touching of someone else’s genitals is assault. We really should have got into the cab with James while we had the chance.

The Estate is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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