A Film a Week - Klokkenluider

 previously published on Cineuropa

After forging a career as an actor with over a hundred film and television credits to his name, Neil Maskell has gone on to write and direct his own feature debut, a tense and wickedly funny cross-genre experience called Klokkenluider. The film world-premiered at the BFI London Film Festival while enjoying its international premiere in Black Nights’ First Features Competition.

Ewan (Amit Shah of The Hundred-Foot Journey fame) is a British government employee who has seen something he shouldn’t have. He has gone into hiding with his wife Silke (Sura Dohnke) in a rented holiday home in East Flanders while waiting for reputable journalist Suzanne Arden to reveal the secret (the title is actually the Dutch word for “whistleblower”), but the new, paranoia-infused situation affects the couple’s relationship.

The pair are soon joined by close protection officers Chris (Tom Burke) and Glynn (Roger Evans), a duo tasked with the couple’s safety until the journalist arrives. But these two bodyguards also seem to be a dysfunctional couple themselves, whose relationship is about to change due to the circumstances of their next mission. Chris tries to act professionally, never breaking cover as Kevin, while Glynn acts more or less like an amateur who’s tagging along for the ride, quick to get drunk and to break his cover as Ben.

Already worried over the implications of their discovery and how it will affect their future, Ewan and Silke are even more unnerved by the strange presence of soldiers in a nearby village, and the fact that their journalist is running late. The arrival of the foul-mouthed reporter (Jenna Coleman, a Doctor Who regular between 2012-2017) sets the highly intense third act in motion.

The key influence for Maskell’s directorial debut is undoubtedly Ben Wheatley, for whom Maskell acted twice, in Kill List (2011) and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018). Both those roles were pivotal in his acting career. The director blends an intense, suspenseful thriller and a pitch-black comedy in a very “Wheatleyan” fashion, which is suitable both for indie film festivals and midnight flick screenings, but the list of references does go on. Traces of Armando Iannuci’s political satire can be found here, along with Guy Ritchie’s lack of concern for political correctness, and the echoes of 90s conspiracy thrillers from across the pond. On the other hand, Klokkenluider serves best as a distorted romantic comedy (since Ewan and Silke, and Chris and Glynn’s couple dynamics mirror one other’s to humorous effect), which is so offbeat it winds up falling half-way between Harold Pinter’s “comedy of menace” and Samuel Beckett’s surreal absurdism.

Since this is a modestly budgeted chamber piece, filmed in a limited number of locations and with a handful of actors, the movie actually depends rather heavily upon the latter. Luckily, Maskell is more than capable of directing them, guiding them but also trusting in their instincts, resulting in an interplay between the four leads which culminates in the strangest game of charades at the end of the second act. Nick Gillespie’s elegant, fluid cinematography and Jason Rayton’s rapid, clean-cut editing help the film to sidestep theatrics, whilst Andy Shortwave’s electronic score and Martin Pavey’s striking sound design further add to the tension, making Klokkenluider one of the best genre experiences on the festival circuit this season.

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