AAAAAAAH (18) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Steve Oram, UK, 2015, 79 mins
Cast: Julian Rhind-Tutt, Lucy Honigman, Steve Oram, Toyah Willcox

Can you imagine what a Mike Leigh film would look like if the actors based all their lines/noises, behaviour and interactions on several hours of Richard Attenborough narrated Ape documentaries? If you can then you will have pictured something close to Steve Oram’s disquieting directorial debut AAAAAAAH.

The scribe who penned and starred in the delightfully dark comedy Sightseers, is treading through very high concept and offbeat indie territory with a film that is as much defined by the base acts of sex, nudity and bodily expulsions as it is by the character drama that underpins it. Important to note then that the drama is brought to life with only the grunts and moans of actors embodying apes. A feat that Oram and his impressive Brit cast (Boosh alumni et al.) manage with a disturbing and often convincing level of ease.

The plot weaves a web of infidelity, betrayal and melodrama that can be likened to that of a Brit soap opera set in the burbs of any UK City. Housewife, Barbara (Toyah Wilcox, yes that Toyah Wilcox!) is estranged from her husband (Julian Barratt). Barratt lives outside the family home, still trying to connect with their daughter (Lucy Honigman). Barbara’s new lover Ryan (Julian Rhind-Tutt) has taken over the home and the mantle of chief ape alongside his lowly side kick (Sean Reynard). This dynamic of subservience and absurdity becomes displaced when a man named Smith (Steve Oram) shows up at the couple’s wild house party, quickly seducing Barbara’s daughter (marking his territory around the house in the process). This new relationship quickly puts the cat amongst the pigeons (or the baboon amongst the gorillas), setting ape firmly against ape as two rival groups begin their fight over territory, women and domestic dominance with often tragic or disturbed outcomes. The party itself, the shoplifting and the various woodland scenes are incredibly framed pieces of over indulgent absurdist cinema that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Harmony Korine film.

AAAAAAAH isn’t just a kitchen sink drama told through the most animalistic, visceral noise primate of behaviours. Oram and his cast more than ape (sorry) the more over blown aspects of our technologically obsessed, emotionally void society. Even taking a welcome shot at pop TV culture such as cooking shows and adults indulging in ridiculous computer games.

It may at times make uncomfortable viewing but it’s hard to deny that the various character dynamics, gratuitous displays of manhood and relationship turmoil finds unnatural levels of reach and impact without a single identifiable word or syllable being uttered. In fact Steve Oram succeeds in presenting something both challenging, disturbing and funny in equal measures. But such provocative ideals can get a little lost amongst the barrage of shocking and puerile visuals on display here.

If you aren’t easily offended then AAAAAAAH can be treated as both a playful and unsettling deconstruction of our supposedly civilised society. It won’t incite a second viewing but it may just remind us that we are just a bunch of badly clothed apes pretending at life beyond the basest obsessions of need and self.

Review by Dan Collacott