Movie Review - Celluloid (2014)

Lloyd Eyre-Morgan is a 24-year-old, independent filmmaker from Manchester in the U.K. who has decided to adapt his own plays into movies. Celluloid is his second feature. It centers on a single, British mother named Dawn and her two teenage children, as they deal with the fact that Dawn is suffering a mental breakdown. The question is whether or not the cause of her breakdown is sexual abuse at the hands of her father. It's a question because some of her family members believe that Dawn has a condition called false memory syndrome and that her abuse might not be real.

Eyre-Morgan's previous movie and his debut was Dream On, which, despite its title, didn't have any dream sequences. Celluloid, however, does. The movie begins as a rather straight-forward, family drama and teenager coming-of-age story, but it does possess these dream sequences.

Some of the sequences are basically scenes ripped from horror films. Dawn becomes the heroine in a scary movie that you think could devolve into a slasher flick or a haunted house film. The scenes consist of her being alone in the dark, and the possibility is there, but, Eyre-Morgan doesn't really play the movie like the recent Evil Dead where a character's mental health is used as a red herring. This movie is about Dawn's state of mind.

Yet, it's also about her two children and how they deal with her mental health. Dawn's eldest is her daughter Nicola, played by Olivia Sweeney. Her youngest is her son Josh, played by Daniel Booth. Both Nicola and Josh are on the cusp of their first sexual experience. For Nicola, she finds herself gravitating toward a slick, fast-talking, arrogant and hard-drinking boy named Barnesy, played by Jody Latham. At the same time, Josh finds himself secretly lusting after his playful, girl-chasing but still virginal, best mate Mikey, played by Joe Watts, while also building a bond with an American blogger named Ryan.

Josh feels the need to record with his tiny video camera everything that happens, or, at least every now and then, he likes to make video journals of events in his life, specifically his reactions to his mother's troubles. Eyre-Morgan's movie in fact begins with one of Josh's video journals, much in the same way that the American film Chronicle (2012) begins with a video journal. Chronicle was a found-footage film and we assume that Celluloid might be the same.

But, Eyre-Morgan doesn't direct this movie that way. The purpose of having tiny, handheld, video cameras is to free the characters so that they can go anywhere and we in turn can go anywhere with them, almost as if we were them. But, the sense of freedom and being able to go anywhere is not the feeling you get from this movie. Like his characters in Dream On, the characters in Celluloid are trapped.

Dawn is trapped in her head and in the abuse she suffered, while her children are trapped within the situation as a result. Through the box-like nature of the cinematography and production design, this movie conveys that trapped feeling, even if it's through something simple as the lines in the camera viewfinder.

Nicola and Josh both become aware of their mother's claim of incest. Yet, Nicola is more skeptical of Dawn, whereas Josh is more sympathetic but still is doubtful of Dawn's potential abuse. The movie, by the end, is whether Nicola and Josh will accept and support their mother who is desperate for anyone, especially her children, to believe her.

Janet Bamford who plays Dawn is particularly excellent and the crème de la crème of the cast. Bamford was in Dream On but has a much more exasperating role in this piece, and yet, Bamford matches that exasperation moment-to-moment. Along the way, Josh has to come to terms with his homosexuality and Booth plays his character's insecurity well. The parallels to her mother that Nicola faces is equally well-handled by Sweeney.

The only criticism is that despite the title Celluloid feels more like a play than a film. While the movie is quite tense and Bamford is provided a brilliant vehicle in which to perform, I believe Eyre-Morgan's focus was sharper with his debut than he is here, but still this is fine work from the young filmmaker.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and sexual situations.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.


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