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Sparks fly all the way through this low-budget British drama, a self-consciously stylish portrait of a troubled young woman struggling with both epilepsy and unresolved family issues. The chief selling points of Electricity are its high-art visuals, which second-time feature director Bryn Higgins sustains from opening titles to closing credits, and the brittle glamor of model-turned-actress Agyness Deyn, who graduates here from scrappy supporting roles to lead.
Based on Ray Robinson‘s acclaimed 2007 debut novel, Electricity earned ecstatic reviews on its home turf when it premiered at the London Film Festival two weeks ago. Opening theatrically in the U.K. in December, it is sure to trigger curiosity as a sympathetic depiction of a condition that affects around 65 million people worldwide yet is rarely seen onscreen. But behind the visual razzle-dazzle lie problems with character, script and direction that ultimately leave an unsatisfying aftertaste. Commercial prospects will likely depend on Deyn’s growing profile and the boldly unusual treatment of the epilepsy theme.
Deyn plays Lily, a young woman living in isolation in a sleepy coastal town in northeast England. Though she is smart and beautiful, Lily’s life has been stunted by epilepsy. Higgins depicts her regular fits from a first-person viewpoint, exploding like electrical storms inside Lily’s head, mental fireworks that crackle with flashbacks and hallucinations until she comes around again, covered in cuts and bruises. Making slick use of blurred focus, slow motion, jump cuts and dreamlike images, these sequences are the strongest in the film, though they could be accused of reducing a serious neurological condition to a sparkly music video.
The sudden death of her mother brings an unexpected financial windfall for Lily, but also a whole new heap of trouble. Her older brother, Barry (Paul Anderson), a flashy loose cannon who makes a shady living as a poker player, wants to split the inheritance 50-50 between them. But on learning that her beloved younger brother, Mikey (Christian Cooke), is not dead as previously suspected, Lily insists on splitting the money three ways. Despite the obvious risks of suffering seizures in a big city where she knows nobody, Lily bravely boards a train to London in search of Mikey.
Lily’s chaotic adventures in London include a robbery, an awkward sexual hook-up, a life-saving encounter with a guardian angel, a perilous new treatment for epilepsy, a suicide attempt and a grueling final showdown with Mikey, who appears to be harboring deep emotional wounds that Joe Fisher‘s clunking screenplay never fully explain. At this point Higgins seems to lose all control over the dramatic tone, which slips from stylized gritty realism to stilted soap opera. If the childlike innocence of Lily feels implausible, the sheer selfishness and blinkered stupidity of her brothers sends the movie spinning into the red zone of comically overblown caricature. Some of the dialogue is painfully, laughably off-key.
In its favor, the sense-swamping rush of Electricity is never less than pleasurable, and Deyn carries off her first major role with modest aplomb. Her star turn in the upcoming Terence Davies project Sunset Song should be interesting.
Production companies: Stone City Films, BFI
Cast: Agyness Deyn, Lenora Crichlow, Christian Cooke, Paul Anderson
Director: Bryn Higgins
Screenwriter: Joe Fisher, from the novel by Ray Robinson
Producers: Clare Duggan, Bryn Higgins
Cinematographer: Si Bell
Editor: Ben Yeates
Production Designer: Beck Rainford
Music: John Lunn
Casting director: Michelle Smith
Sales: Soda Pictures
No MPAA rating, 96 minutes
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Venice Film Festival