Friday, 24 November 2017


Starring: Sheena Bhatessa, Craig Russell, Richard Mylan
Writer: Peter Stray
Director: Peter Stray

Radio DJ Steve (Russell) returns home to Wales to play the tunes at a mate's New Year's Eve party and to pitch a business proposition to one of the guests. Across the Atlantic a shadowy department of the US Government is watching the area with great interest, predicting that the next in an ongoing series of extra-terrestrial events is about to happen in Lower Cwmtwrch (not to be confused with Upper Cwmtwrch, let's get the facts straight here). Soon enough, Steve's money-making scheme is the last thing on his mind as he and his friends fight to survive against a lethal, otherworldly menace...

Made for just £29,000, Peter Stray's sci-fi/horror/action/comedy hybrid somehow takes its minuscule budget and throws in exciting, well-choreographed fight sequences, striking visual effects, generous globs of gore and a globe-trotting plot that takes in locations such as Martha's Vineyard, Washington D.C. and Vietnam as well as the Valleys. And it makes a bloody good job of it all too.

It would be easy to focus solely on the admittedly impressive technical achievement of producing such a well shot, feature-length movie when the available funds would only cover half of the coffee budget of a recent outing for a well-known British secret agent but what's even more pleasing here is the fact that just as much effort has been put into making the story smart, involving and a whole lot of fun.

The initial mystery is developed nicely and the steady series of reveals which allow the audience to piece together what's going on is both well-timed and confidently handled. Even so, this wouldn't work nearly as well as it does if we weren't experiencing it all with such a well-drawn, diverse set of characters who are appealingly flawed and real.

Nothing feels crowbarred into the proceedings here: for instance, two of the male characters are gay but whereas many films would totally overplay this aspect of the tale it's dealt with in a beautifully naturalistic, matter-of-fact way here. No attention is brought to it whatsoever beyond the fact that their relationship is actually quite sweet and makes for some amusing dialogue between the pair.

Elsewhere, the females are strong, intelligent and well-defined, particularly Bhatessa's "travel agent" Sunita who consistently proves more resourceful than the often bumbling blokes around her. She's generally called upon to make sense of the unfolding plot but again this doesn't feel forced and the exposition isn't clunky. It's a role that isn't overwritten and avoids turning her into a superhuman, ass-kicking babe, instead she's a thoroughly credible and capable heroine.

Which brings me to the fellas of the piece in all of their awkward, sweary, banter-heavy glory. Russell is engaging as Steve, winging it on a dodgy current of bravado and movie quotes as he tries to dazzle those around him, succeeding almost never. Steve Meo is hilarious as the ever-more-sozzled Huw (at one point asking someone to step outside when they're already outside), Richard Mylan totally nails the serious, over-protective nature of Sunita's brother Nav and Aled Pugh is first-rate as Ryan, a guy with relationship issues and some wicked Wing Chung skills.

The chemistry between all of these is plain to see and you do really do feel that these people have known each other for years. The quips are convincingly clunky, often childish, almost always raising a laugh. For anyone who's concerned that the humour may be too Welsh, firstly I'm not quite sure what "too Welsh" is (suggestions in the comments please), secondly I found it extremely warm and relatable. I'm not Welsh, by the way.

It's great to see home-grown movies with such ambition and scope. Canaries belies its budget time and again, proving that ingenuity and imagination can produce something more involving and entertaining than many a big studio blockbuster. This was made with a real love of its various genres, inhabiting the same space as the very best of The X-Files with its mix of chills, chuckles and detailed mythology but also possessing a distinctive, confident voice of its own. All involved should be extremely proud and the possibility of further adventures in the Canaries universe is an enticing prospect.

Also, if you don't know how to pronounce Cwmtwrch you will after you've seen this.

No comments:

Post a Comment