‘Hungerford’ is a sci-fi horror film that has recent been debuted as part of this year’s Sci-Fi London film festival at the British Film Institute. The film’s director, Drew Casson (who also stars in the film), is the youngest director on record to have a feature screened at the BFI.
Hungerford details a small English town that becomes victim to the first onslaught of an alien invasion. Cowen – played by Casson – and friends are those who eventually rise to the task of trying to face off the alien hordes. There are a lot of elements from classic sci-fi in this film; there are definitely echoes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Village of the Damned, Night of the Living Dead, but you’ll probably instantly be reminded of Shaun of the Dead from the film’s realistic dialogue and suburban setting. I found that to be one of the film’s core strengths. The idea of a supernatural force taking over a sleepy English town is one that has been done to death and it can present problems in preventing the idea from feeling like a repeat of old material. Hungerford, while inspired by the greats of the genre, never feels like a rehash of old ideas.
The film is incredibly impressive on a technical level. The direction is solid throughout, preventing the film from ever feeling fantastical, and the editing is well-done. The sound editing is absolutely superb. I have never heard such crisp sound editing before – and if you want to argue about how that’s not important, I will point you in the direction of the latest BBC adaptations. The special effects have clearly been done on a budget but are extremely effective. Most have been done practically, which is something I like to see, and they are visceral and bloody, adding to the film’s atmosphere. There is a sinister, ethereal sense of terror that settles upon you as you watch Hungerford, and my hat goes off to Casson for pulling off what many more well-known directors can’t.
If the review has sounded a little dry before now, well… I just didn’t care for Hungerford very much. There are parts of the film that are excellent but to me they were sadly overwhelmed by what I didn’t like. Namely, my two most hated sci-fi or horror film tropes: found footage and characters who are both idiots and unpleasant.
Film with an alien invasion, found footage, and asshole characters? I’ve already seen that film. It was called Cloverfield. I didn’t like that film either.
My dislike for found footage is a fairly personal thing – I just find it a bit overdone these days, seeing as every other horror film released in the last five years has been one. It’s explained by Casson filming a week in his life for a college project, which means that he merrily films everything – annoying his friends, murdering aliens, and whatever dramatic happens to him that would make any normal person drop their camera straight away. I find found footage films to present a lot of logical problems that prevents me from ever getting really into a story. It breaks my suspension of disbelief, I’m sorry to say.
And that brings me to what is my major problem with the film. I really do not like the characters. For some reason, it’s become a popular trend for characters in horror films to be really unpleasant. I don’t understand this trend because it’s not a good thing for me to actively want your characters to be killed by aliens. The characters watch a man collapse on the street, seriously injured, and laugh and refuse to help. They watch a girl vomiting up blood and do nothing. They watch a man being violently attacked by two men (who we realise later are aliens) and do nothing. These characters are horrible! They have a drinking party because the town hall explodes! Why am I supposed to like these characters, exactly? What reason are you giving me to want to know the story of these characters? Why am I supposed to root for these characters to survive? You are not giving me a reason to be interested in their arc throughout the narrative.
There is also an unpleasant undercurrent in the character’s dialogue, namely a recurrent joke about how Adam jokes Cowen is ‘gay’ (ha, ha, it is to laugh) and how Phil, Adam’s sister, cannot do anything. In fact, there are two female characters in this film – Phil and Janine – and both of them are presented as being entirely useless. They are treated as being useless and are spoken of as being useless. I had no idea that fending off an alien invasion was something that could only be achieved by men.
The film has a Shaun of the Dead-esque attitude to the invasion – our characters notice a weird series of events but as they are background events until things come to a head. The problem is that Shaun of the Dead takes place over two days. It’s a small amount of time which explains why the arrival of zombies takes society by surprise. Hungerford takes place over three or four days. Weird things keep happening and absolutely no one thinks to contact any authorities or to do anything.
That said, the scripting problems result from inexperience and there are many commendable qualities about the script. The characters feel real and fleshed out. They pass the realness test – they feel like they have a life before the events of the film. The script is tight and there are no wasted scenes. This is a marvel in any film released nowadays and while it may have arisen from budgetary constraints, it makes Hungerford feel like a breath of fresh air.
The whole film feels like a blessed relief from the unrelenting churn of modern Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters. There is limited CGI, using great practical effects that I always like to see more of, and the film focuses on a core cast of a few, rather than filling the screen with thousands of poorly rendered space ships and a cast of thousands. There are no attempts to hammer in a poorly disguised message that has been designed for the masses. While I was left a little cold by it, there’s a lot to enjoy in this film and I would highly recommend checking out this film. It’s a fantastic achievement for home grown British talent, and I cannot praise the director enough. His talent is shamefully obvious, especially to this wannabe screenwriter, and I look forward to enjoying his next project more whole-heartedly.