Even though I joined Netflix on the very first day it became available in Belgium, my expectations of the Netflix catalogue tend to be rather low. It's a fine service for simple filler and plugging holes in various top lists or director oeuvres, and when a good film does finally appear in the catalogue I've usually already seen it. Once in a while though, a small, sprarkling diamond in the rough sneaks in. Bryn Higgins' Electricity looked the part and it turned out to be a very nice surprise indeed.
I'm not the world's biggest fan of British drama, but I do tend to appreciate their grittier, darker approach to the genre. The element of realism is usually a tad too dominant for my taste (lots of social drama portrayed with little frills for maximum dramatic impact), even so I do appreciate their affinity with rugged characters set against desolate and dire surroundings. No doubt there's some of that in Electricity, but the film works equally hard to break free of those very reigns.
Electricity is an adaptation of Ray Robinson's debut novel by the same name. Higgins was so impressed by Robinson's knack for visual writing that he took it upon himself to turn the book into a feature film. Rather than make it the umpteenth gritty, British drama film, Higgins added a level of visual focus that's rare to see even outside the drama genre. It's a bold move that might alienate part of the film's core audience, but that's exactly what drew me to this film.
The story follows Lily, an epileptic with a troubled past. When her mom pushed her off the stairs at a very young age, Lily got stuck with serious fits of epilepsy. Ever since she's been hooked on medication that prevents the worsening of her condition, but from time to time the attacks resurface. Branded a spastic in her home town, she moved up north to a small village near the shore, far away from the painful memories. But when her mom dies Lily's past comes back to haunt her and she decides that she needs to face the demons she tried to put to rest all those years ago.
The intro of Electricity leaves little to the imagination, Higgins made a film that isn't ashamed to lean on visual atmosphere. Heavily distorted and filtered images make up the start of the film, creating a very dense and psychedelic effect. The epileptic attacks are a great excuse to keep the visual impact high, but also in between these moments does Higgins pay great attention to the camera work and use of color. The result is a strong, visually intense experience that doesn't chip away at the dramatic impact.
The soundtrack only fortifies that atmosphere, while adding a definite British vibe to the film. A combination of raw rock songs and big beat-like electronic is used to alternate between traditional dramatic moments and dreamier, more abstract scenes. The soundtrack may lack a few defining interventions, it's never really able to carry the film on its own merits, but combined with the fine visuals it makes for a rock solid atmosphere.
Taking up the lead role is Agyness Deyn, who impresses in her first big performance. It's a pretty heavy, invested role, with a fair amount of scenes that require non-verbal communication, yet she handles it like a pro. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, Paul Anderson and Christian Cooke add their share, though it's obvious the film is built around Lily's character, putting all the weight on her shoulders. A risky decision of Higgins that I think paid off in the end.
The drama itself may be a little predictable and there aren't many surprises in the final half hour, but it's great to see that Higgins remained faithful to his own setup. I somehow expected the audiovisual storytelling to slowly disappear in favor of more traditional narrative drama, luckily Electricity didn't fall into that trap. While this may deter fans of more typical drama cinema, in the end that's what gives the film its own particular style and flavor.
Electricity is a welcome change of pace for British drama. Higgins made a beautiful, unique and touching film that lives in its own little niche. It's very nature might hamper its ability to reach a broader audience, but if you're looking for something a little different then this is a very warmly recommend. It's a shame to see films like these fail to garner the support they deserve, so if your local Netflix catalogue has it on offer, simply give it a fair chance.