When encountering low budget films from unknown film-makers certain allowances have to be made. Without the expensive post-production process these often young newcomers to film have to find ways to become creative in the way in which they construct their films. Those now considered ˜great’ in the lexicon of directors all started with small, personally-charged pieces of work that somehow transcended their low-budget surroundings to present something unique, interesting and ultimately memorable.
David Lynch had Eraserhead, Guillermo Del Toro had Cronos and Christopher Nolan had Following, each presented their vision and style which would benchmark their own directorial style and in their own way affect the output of the faceless Hollywood machine. It is with this in mind that I try to surmise my thoughts on Third Contact, a film from London-based debut director Simon Horrocks.
Psychiatrist Dr. David Wright (Tim Scott-Walker) has trouble focusing on his work after the suicide of a patient and the seeming breakdown of his relationship with the woman he loves. When the sister of his recently dead patient arrives in the country and discovers a list of memories in the deceased’s apartment, she contacts David and the two begin to investigate what appears to be an ever-increasing mystery surrounding the death.
Shot with nothing but a camcorder, it would be easy to focus on the low production values, but in all honesty after a few minutes of dialogue between David and his initial patient you forget you’re watching a film. It becomes more like experiencing the lives of the characters as a fly-on-the-wall. The use of ambient sounds in places like train stations add to the verisimilitude and apart from some sound editing issues the sensation of truth is rarely shattered.
Another aspect of low-budget films is the acting. Let’s be honest, its usually passable at its best, and woeful at its worst, imagine my surprise when Third Contact proved to not only have passable actors throughout, but some truly special individual performances. Notably the lead Tim Scott-Walker, whose turn as the tortured, mad and potentially suicidal psychiatrist drives the unerring twists and turns within the narrative. It’s a very enclosed, isolated performance and even when he’s in the company of others he is distant and distracted. There’s nothing more compelling than a central performance that hooks you in to the intrigue from the start and keeps you guessing to the end.
The script is dynamic and smart. Very smart. In the same way as Christopher Nolan at his best, Horrocks doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence. Along with a sprawling series of discussions on self and memory, Third Contact paints broad strokes of the thriller genre, punctuated the whole time with dark blacks, brilliant whites and the ever important noir greys.
It’s sometimes difficult to separate the mass-marketed Hollywood norm from your thinking, but truly independent pieces of art really do stand out. While I may lack all the right words in all the right places to describe the discovery of something new, my thoughts drift back to Ratatouille, and the words of food critic Anton Ego, There are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defence of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends. Third Contact is new. Simon Horrocks is new. This is me standing up, putting myself out there and defending them both.