'AAAAAAAAH!': Frightfest Review

Courtesy of Lincoln Studios
A ragged but mostly successful experiment in urban gorilla warfare.

Human beings have the same violent tribal urges as wild apes in this surreal horror comedy, the directing debut of British actor and screenwriter Steve Oram.

An outlandish blend of wacko sci-fi horror and grotesque comedy, this low-budget British oddity will divide critics, but it should pick up a devoted following among fans of macabre, surreal, cheerfully disgusting cult cinema. The feature-directing debut of its writer and co-star Steve Oram, AAAAAAAAH! takes place in a contemporary London where humans behave like wild apes, speaking only in simian grunts as they masturbate, defecate, urinate, copulate and engage in deadly tribal rivalries. Vulgar and violent and intermittently hilarious, Oram's uncompromising experiment in arty trash has its world premiere this weekend as part of Frightfest in London.
 
A regular collaborator with the left-field British horror director Ben Wheatley, Oram co-scripted and starred in Wheatley's darkly comic 2012 serial-killer road movie Sightseers. Wheatley has an executive producer credit on AAAAAAAAH! while Oram's Sightseers co-creator Alice Lowe also appears in a brief cameo. The rest of the ensemble cast includes Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding of the much-loved cult British comedy duo The Mighty Boosh, which should help boost commercial prospects domestically. A limited UK theatrical run begins in London next week, with a digital release to follow in the Fall. Overseas markets will be a tougher challenge, but the film's sustained weirdness could actually prove a key selling point for a certain niche audience.
 
Oram and Tom Meeten play Smith and Keith, a monkey-man duo wandering through the rainy, leafy fringes of South London, brawling and grunting and rubbing themselves against trees for sexual gratification.  Their paths cross with a family unit of fellow humanoid apes led by Ryan (Julian Rhind-Tutt) and Barabara (Toyah Willcox). Ryan is the current alpha male of this group, having exiled former simian overlord Jupiter (Barratt) to a remote corner of the garden. But at a drug-fuelled party, Smith's lustful encounter with the young female of the tribe, Denise (Lucy Honigman), sparks a battle for dominance with Ryan that escalates into a full-scale fight to the death.

The notion of homicidal human monkeys who still have apartments, smartphones, computer games and shopping malls provides the raw material for some sharp comic observation, including one particularly gory stunt involving fellatio and cannibalism. But Oram denies any intent to make an allegorical satire on contemporary consumer society, citing veteran low-budget trash maestros John Waters and Ed Wood as key influences. Planet of the Apes is another obvious reference point, plus a raft of dystopian early 1970s Euro sci-fi classics including A Clockwork Orange, Themroc and O Lucky Man!

This knowingly retro 1970s aesthetic is reinforced by a soundtrack of improvised guitar noodling and analogue electronica, much of it donated to the project by Robert Fripp of progressive rockers King Crimson. Fripp is married to co-star Willcox, so presumably they came as a package. In any case the anachronistic music is an appropriately offbeat, hipster-friendly touch.

At its worst, AAAAAAAAH! feels like a disjointed, amateurish home movie knocked together by a bunch of friends as a cheerfully tasteless prank. The horror is never quite horrific enough, while the monkey conceit wobbles in places. Even so, Oram's debut is a refreshingly original experiment in punk cinema which gathers dramatic weight as it unfolds, touching depths of sick humor and provocative vulgarity worthy of Lars Von Trier or Harmony Korine. A bold new voice in British film is born.

Production company: Lincoln Studios
Cast: Steve Oram, Lucy Honigman, Julian Rhind–-Tutt, Toyah Willcox, Julian Barratt, Noel Fielding, Tom Meeten
Director, screenwriter, editor: Steve Oram
Cinematographer: Matt Wicks
Music: King Crimson ProjeKcts
Additional music: David Westlake
Sales company: Lincoln Studios, lincolnfilmstudios@runbox.com
No rating, 80 minutes

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