Follow the Crows to Swindon

Ah, goodbye January, hello Feb; that lengthy cold month full of let-downs. To add to my extensive list my car was seriously ill, so much so I was gutted not to have made it to the Follow the Crows premiere at Shaw Ridge. Not for the want of trying, I ranted it as far as Calne with all the power of a milk-float climbing Everest, but figured it just wasn’t going to happen, turned around and headed for home, via the shop for a Twirl, which was no compromise.

 
You may recall I was privileged to review this brilliant Swindon-made flick over a year ago; it was my first real journalist outing for Index:Wiltshire, if not here’s the link. Interested to hear what others thought, I’ve nicked this great review from Mark O’Donnell, may having blagged a new contributor to Devizine in the process!

Follow the Crows Review
By Mark O’Donnell

It’s usual to qualify any review of an amateur film with the prefix: “For an amateur production….” It helps the reader lower their expectations as though they were appraising a three year old’s first attempt at a self-portrait. For Follow the Crows there is no need for such context. From the understated charisma of the actors, the deft, unpretentious direction and the minimalist screenplay right through to the production and presentation of last night’s preview everything about this film screams professional integrity and dedication.

Set in the muddy hills and menacing woodlands of a post-apocalypse Britain, it is the story of an unnamed couple thrown together by their mutual need for survival and, ultimately, forgiveness. Filmed on location on a Neolithic path known as The Ridgeway in Wiltshire, the already sodden landscape is washed through a grey filter that provides a beautiful, if stark, backdrop to lives stripped of all but a basic humanity. Only the small log fires illuminating the endless cold nights provide any real colour, any real comfort for the characters that roam the film’s bleak setting.

Follow the Crows has a touch of Ben Wheatley about it in tone as well as look. Director Alex Secker spares his audience any exposition and we join the characters on their never ending search rather than watch them from a distance. Like them, you work it out as you go along. When the anonymous figure of the hunter begins stalking the former members of a gang escaping from their past and themselves across the hills and through the woodlands, it is up to us, along with them, to work out why they are being picked off.

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The Hunter (played with consummate understatement by co-script writer and producer Mark Starr) is satisfyingly enigmatic and straightforward at the same time. He is clearly seeking revenge and, once satisfied, can die in peace. Such is the intelligence of the screenplay, he barely needs to speak for us to hear his pain, and it is never certain if he will achieve his aim.

Every character, no matter how briefly they appear, is created in full and from scratch. There’s the fool-in-motley sidekick to a sadistic and malevolent trapper uncomfortably thrown into moral and actual wilderness that he cannot survive. The middle-aged rapists whose bickering and banal sadism underpins society’s slide toward complacent barbarism. The two middle class professionals thrown together in a world they are equpped to do nothing but abandon themselves to. Even the five second appearance of the brooding Roger (the only character given a name in the end credits) has a narrative and moral purpose.

At the heart of the film are the stand out performances of the two main characters. First there is The Man – who is essentially good but forced to live with the memory of the evil he has been party to – played with clinical restraint by Max Curtis. Even in the courageous silences through which Secker allows his audience to become part of his landscape, Curtis wears his pain and conviction like the mark of Cain. What vestige of humanity he has managed to save is nurtured and kindled like a camp fire on a rain-soaked hillside by The Woman. Played by a disarmingly natural Daniella Faircloth who skilfully manages to inhabit her character more than portray her, she is a hymn to innocence and experience: victim, killer, vulnerable, powerful, decisive and lost.

Dialogue is sparse, exposition is minimal but the story is rich and well told.

Making any film is difficult. Producing a full-length feature on a small budget is especially hard. Creating an intelligent film that never flags, rejects cliché and looks this good takes a superhuman form of dedication. It is clear that everyone involved in this production deserves the highest possible praise and should be justifiably proud of their work. I look forward to their next project, because there surely must be one.

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Thanks to Mark for permission to republish this; does he know what he’s letting himself in for?!
But as for Follow the Crows, it’s pretty much as I expected and not just me gratifying the cast and crew because I was sat among them at the cosy press screening, this really is an impressive and poignant movie. So asked director Marc Starr what comes next for the film, pondering where the process goes from here.
“From the preview we’re tweaking it,” Marc informed me, “Then, next week entering it into a few film festivals, where, if selected, it has a better chance of getting distribution.”

 

Have to wish the team all the best with this, and look forward to a day when Follow the Crows is rightfully screened across the globe.

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