Rachel Tunnard / UK / 2016 / 96 mins
With the world the way it is, retreating to a cosy-looking shed at the bottom of the garden and spending your life making daft home videos is a lifestyle with a lot to commend it. But for young Anna, played brilliantly by Jodie Whittaker, it’s not modern life, but the death of her twin brother that has led her to hermitry. On the cusp of thirty, and with a weird sort of semi-job at an outdoor pursuit centre, she’s a source of despair to her mother (Lorraine Ashbourne) and nan (Eileen Davies) – ensconsed in her garden playhouse, mournfully surrounded by the trappings of her shared childhood, when she could be out finding a man and a place of her own.
Yet Rachel Tunnard‘s debut feature is neither as simple, nor as callous as “kidult needs to grow up and get over dead brother”. Rather it’s a gentle, tender exploration of the possibilities of bereavement to help us create ourselves anew, while remaining honest and true to those we’ve lost.
Everything about this film is slightly unworldly. Alice Lowe plays the hapless activity leader at the outdoor centre, while Brett Goldstein as Brendan has an indeterminate issue with social skills, yet seemingly holds down a job as an estate agent (some might say these things are not incompatible). As a result, Rachael Deering as the more grounded Fiona plays a useful role by tearing into the cosy certitude of country life when she arrives rip-roaring back from travels in Thailand, promising Anna “teenage” nights out clubbing.
Pennine Yorkshire plays a valuable co-starring role too, its Middle Earth-y beauty shown to magical effect. The world the film inhabits feels gloriously remote, with scenes either overgrown by nature – you can almost feel the moss that no doubt lurks in the family home – or as in a moor-top pub scene, stripped to ultimate bleakness. The Wicker Man is referenced in that latter scene, but Fargo or The Shipping News are also called to mind. The long, lingering shots of nature also share something with a Brit film from last EIFF, Black Mountain Poets, coincidentally also featuring Alice Lowe.
Ultimately, the film’s key (living) relationship is between Anna and Clint, the son of a dying neighbour who develops an attachment to her. “I’m gonna be like you when I grow up… sad and angry”. Young Ozzy Myers plays the lad with appealing awkwardness. The film does lose focus for a short period though, with too much time spent building the relationship between these two.
Unless you’re the kind of stick-in-the-mud who feels that childish imagination should die the moment you turn 18, Anna’s playfulness and wit in the face of her loss proves heart-wrenching. Sibling relationships so often go underexplored, and the way Anna’s lost twin both haunts and sustains her makes this an affecting film, whose emotional depth outweighs any tendency to kookiness.