Made in Britain: The Reeds
Doctors in the NHS have been busted in the past for snide acronyms in patients medical notes. One of the most notorious is “NFN” which stands for “Normal for Norfolk”. Basically, a slight on the massively inbred yokels that inhabit this godforsaken bit of the British Isles. Think damper version of West Virginia. Anyway, aside from inbreeding, Norfolk is home to an area called the Norfolk Broads, which is a desolate swampland of interconnected lagoon/ rivers separated from civilisation by miles and miles of knee high reeds. I’ve been here as a kid on a boating holiday, and can confirm that the Norfolk Broads, with their isolation, fog, and utter sense of desolation is an astonishingly creepy location. So, when I found a film had been made that was primarily set on the Broads, I swore they were on to a winner. Surely, a film called “The Reeds” set out there couldn’t fail?
Contains thematic confusion and a huge spoiler below.
I have, actually, seen the Broads used in ghost stories in the past. Usually these made for TV efforts work their absolute knackers off to convey the eerie nature of the location; to substitute the scenery for anything resembling a coherent script. In essence, this isn’t actually a bad idea, because in grey daylight with the fog surrounding the area, is phenomenally spooky. The Woman in Black, actually, uses a similarly isolated setting with spectacular results. However, there’s one principal difference between the Woman in Black and the Reeds. The Woman in Black is a supernatural ghost story, and the Reeds doesn’t know what the fuck it is.
The Reeds started out life as one of the After Dark Horrorfest films. 8 international/ independent movies that played at a horror film festival in the states. Some of these were underrated gems, noticeably Mulberry St, but far too many of them absolutely honked- Crazy 8’s is a particularly bad film. In a way, I like that these little films get exposure like this (almost all of them are on Lovefilm now as well), but the quality of them is patchy at best.
On first sight, the Reeds appears to be a proto-slasher. 6 twenty-somethings (Laura, Mel, Helen, Joe, Nick and Chris, played be, in order, Anna Brewster, Emma Catherwood, Scarlett Alice Johnson, Daniel Caltagirone, O.T. Fagbenle and Will Mellor) are off on a boating holiday. Laura reveals that she was from the area originally, but was adopted very young. They see things while on the way, including a group of feral teens that run very fast, an enigmatic ginger woman, and so forth. After a disconcerting encounter with the boatyard owner (Geoff Bell), the group sets out into the fens, and this is when things go tits up. An act of absolute fuckuppery leaves them stranded in the arse end of nowhere, and they’re being menaced by creepy figures out in the Reeds. Eventually, the film morphs into a slasher movie crossed with a ghost story and our characters all die messily before Laura deals with the gun-toting serial killer and a “twist” of quite ridiculous irritation kicks in.
There are a number of problems here. For a start, this should NOT be a slasher film of any description. The location lends itself to the supernatural, not the mundane, and it’s cretinous to not take advantage of this. To be fair, the film does try to incorporate supernatural elements into the story, but the crux of the matter is good looking kids in remote location being killed by grubby local inbred- and the supernatural elements are superfluous to this. Frustrating.
However, eventually, the film does realise that it should have been making more of the ghostly elements of the (ridiculously) overwritten script. They’ve played with hints about something in the darkness with Nick saying that he saw his own face, only with black eyes, and the cannibalistic ghost kids in the reeds are an unpleasant and creepy image. There’s been the odd disturbing hallucination leading to spectacular balls ups, and a disconcerting re-animation that may or may not have taken place. However, that’s nothing to the finale of the film.
GREAT BIG DIRTY SPOILER AHEAD
Eventually the final two survivors (Mel and Nick) are trapped in a way point with the nutter. He’s been driven mad, because he’s killed the kids and other travelers on the Broads over and over again for the better part of 20 years- he can’t even off himself for release. You see, what was needed was the return of Mel to close the loop and kill him off, as she was the survivor of one of his previous slaughters. So, anyhoo, Mel kills him, then hops in the car with Nick to escape….When out of the sudden she sees a ginger bird run out of the reeds, brakes to avoid her and Nick comments on a cassette tape, before she smiles and her eyes turn black.
For those that were paying attention, this is actually almost verbatim what happened at the start of the film (bar the eye thing). It didn’t at the time, make sense for there to be a cassette in the car. However, now it makes perfect sense, as it’s the yokel’s car they’re escaping in. The idea, clearly, is that there’s some sort of time loop thingy on the Broads, and a la Triangle, they’re now doomed to repeat it over and over again.
The problem here is that the film hasn’t earned this. There was some yokelly exposition to this effect at the climax of the film, but really, it’s astonishingly jarring. When Triangle (a film not without serious problems) set this up, it made sense, because we’d seen the results of the previous attempts to break the loop all over the place. Here on the other hand, it’s cobblers. There’s been no sign that the kids are repeating the loop- because they repeatedly turn up as zombies and whatnot, and there’s even less of an indication that the characters are even aware that they’re in a fucking Bermuda Triangle loop in the first fucking place.
Epic, epic failure.
It’s confused, poorly thought out garbage, and as such the film struggles and eventually dies under the weight of its own confusion. There is much here to recommend, such as the setting and the makeup, but I honestly don’t think any film could survive with a glaring and poorly thought out twist/ paradox such as this one in it.
Overall, The Reeds is a terrible film. It’s not irredeemably awful, so can’t have an orangutan, but by being unable to decide what subgenre it is, with a twist as frankly fucking silly as this one, Chris Baker (writer) and Nick Cohen (director) created an almost insurmountable obstacle for their characters to climb over. I never felt comfortable with the rules of the film, and I don’t think they did either. This, basically, reeks of a script that needed serious editing and redrafting as by trying to be all things to all people it ends up being nothing for anybody. Not recommended.
Next up, hopefully, is Kill List’s Ben Wheatley’s return with Sightseers. Expecting this to be one of the films of the year, actually.