Black Pond may be one of the polarizing films of this or any other year.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian calls it: ” … really good: haunting, melancholy and strange.”
Mary F., one of the Audience reviewers at rottentomatoes.com, says Black Pond is “Possibly the worst film I’ve ever watched.”
Will Sharpe co-directed and co-edited Black Pond with music video vet Tom Kingsley. The duo shared a BAFTA nomination with producer Sarah Brocklehurst, in 2012, for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. (BAFTA stands for British Academy of Film & Television Arts and is widely regarded as the U.K. equivalent of an Oscar).
Briefly, the film is about an odd, dysfunctional family who befriend a sad, eccentric loner, Blake (Colin Hurley) with an unexpected result.
After the “unexpected result” (no spoilers here!) the Brit tabloids label them “a family of killers” and worse. Even though they have not killed (or even hurt) anyone. Chris Langham (who plays the father, Tom Thompson), knows about the power of the press from firsthand experience. His career in his native Britain came to a screeching halt after being booked (and serving some jail time) on rather unsavory charges.(Langham claims he was researching a role.) Obviously, there is real-life irony in the way Langham as Tom says “Obviously I lost my job because of the publicity.”
Amanda Hadingue, who plays Sophie, the mother of the family, is a wannabe poetess with a thing for John Clare. (If English poet John Clare is unfamiliar to North American readers, don’t feel bad. I had to look him up on Wikipedia, too.) It seems that Tom is unwittingly dim about his wife’s avocation. (“You want to throw my poems in the recycling!” Sophie exclaims.)
Anna O’Grady (Katie) and Helen Cripps (Jess) are cast as the two feuding sisters of the family. (“Katie has a thing for the wounded … Jess has a thing for being wounded,” Mom explains to Blake.) Ms. Cripps wears a perpetually bemused expression through much of the film (I get the feeling Jess has grown up with that expression on her face, surrounded by the weirdness of her family and, well, life , in general, which can be fairly strange by itself.)
The film is a mix of bone-dry and (often) pitch black wit, almost hallucinatory animation, dream sequences and profound philosophizing (“Very deep. Very deep indeed” says one of the characters admiringly.) The humor is very dry. So dry that it may leave some American viewers parched. It is, after all, a film that is, to quote one Brit paper, “intensely English”. Fortunately, I watch a lot of British shows on Netflix and/or PBS but even so I had to watch this eccentric low budget import twice (okay, I don’t have a life) to fully appreciate its quirky charms.
A three-legged canine named Bonzo plays the family’s three-legged dog, Boy. (Talk about Method acting. Of course, what Bonzo really wants to do is write and direct.) And why is the dog called Boy? (“When I first brought him home, I said,’Here, boy’ and he responded right away,” explains Tom.)
Sharpe (who wrote the screenplay) plays Tim Tanaka, a friend of the family. (“I think he’s just a bloke with too much time on his hands,” says Tom.) British television personality Simon Amstell plays a quack psychiatrist (“I’m not qualified but who are you?,” he states cheerfully in an online ad, ” Treatments are free. My parents are dead.”)
The cast delivers their lines with poker-faced perfection, some of it in ” Office”-style interviews, supposedly filmed after the family’s brush with the law. ( “The Office” was originally a U.K. series before it was adapted for American audiences.)
The film received a limited theatrical release and is not for everyone but I was intrigued enough to keep an eye open for Sharpe and Kingsley’s sophomore release, 2016’s Darkest Universe.
Variety magazine says Black Pond “could become a cult item.” Judging from the young hipsters on Tumblr, it is already a cult film.
One could wish that Sharpe and Kingsley’s third film would be more accessible for a global audience but I can hear the pair snickering at such a comment: “Accessible? We thought Black Pond was accessible. You should see some of the scenes we left out!”