A man dances, drunk and drugged off his face in a nightclub. He collapses and is dragged off. He wakes up on a filthy mattress, in a bare, windowless room with walls of grubby, whitewashed stone. Who is he? Where is he?
So begins DESPERATE MEASURES, a low-budget independent feature film, written and produced by Chris Green, and directed by Steve Looker, whose earlier short COLD BLOOD screened at the very first Grimm Up North back in 2009. The Grimm team were there for the film’s Premiere, prior to its DVD release, at the Vue Cinema in Salford, along with the great, the good, and the not so good of the region’s filmmaking community, and a sizable number of the filmmakers’ family and friends. We all had a Hell of a good time.
The film stars local boy and sometime Eastenders face Stephen Lord as Ross Hadley, a cynical, embittered young man with a serious substance abuse problem, who finds himself held hostage in a deserted Yorkshire farmhouse by thuggish Cockney ex-squaddie Jack (Ricci Harnett) and the older, more world-weary George (Max Beesley, Sr). To discover just who they are and what they want from him, Ross must play along with their games and the routines they impose on him, but more importantly he must face up to his own past actions and continued failings.
Beginning as a gritty, claustrophobic little thriller, the film gradually shifts into a tale of tough love, failure, loss and redemption. If I’m honest, I saw some of the film’s narrative twists coming, but this really doesn’t matter that much. The film is far more about the characters and the developing relationships between them, and here is where it excels. The dialogue is sharp, the characterisation is strong, complex, and well-observed, the emotional journey is powerful and the performances of the three leads are excellent. Stephen Lord conveys Ross’s journey of self-discovery admirably, never glossing over his character’s unpleasant aspects but retaining audience sympathy throughout. Ricci Harnett displays the brutish Jack’s unexpected levels of vulnerability and sensitivity with real empathy and Max Beesley Sr perfectly captures George’s complex mixture gruff decency, anger, resignation and sorrow. The film also has a nicely judged, low key but weighty supporting turn from Steven Hillman, as a character whose arrival at the farmhouse forms the turning point in the narrative.
Steve Looker’s deft direction is taut and stylish, but unobtrusive. He focuses on telling the story well, keeping it moving, keeping the audience gripped. He gets the best out of everyone and everything, trusting to the strength of Chris Green’s powerful, emotive yet witty script and the strong cast, and making great use of the striking locations. The result is a formidable piece of filmmaking that should turn heads and open doors. Shot on a tiny budget, the film is a triumph for everyone involved in its production, and another sign that the North West’s filmmakers are now a serious force to be reckoned with.
Desperate Measures is out now on DVD. Check it out. by Steve Balshaw