Dir. Richard Rowntree (2019)
After trying to rob a recent lottery winner, the criminals must survive against way more than the homeowners.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
Richard Rowntree’s second film is a doozy, one that deserves much more recognition than it has received up to this point. It’s a home invasion thriller at its core, but trust me when I say that, when things begin to go off the rails, they hurtle headlong off the tracks into visceral and disturbing horror in a way that most indie films wouldn’t dare. It’s another great British horror film from Rowntree, who creates an atmosphere of indie delightfulness that contains an artistic flair and cinematography that very well could become his trademark. Like Dogged before it, he introduces us to a cast of characters that are mysterious and interesting, but Nefarious allows him to explore their personalities a bit more and give us some fully fleshed-out characters that deserve to be discovered. It also gives us some of the best and most convincing gore that I’ve seen in an indie joint, and that makes this one of the best surprises I’ve found so far.
Marcus (Toby Wynn-Davies) is a man who cares for his mentally handicapped brother Clive (Gregory A. Smith), and he’s relatively well off. He becomes even more wealthy when he wins a lottery windfall, which is unfortunately noticed by his housecleaner Jo (Abbey Gillett). Lou lives with three other ne’er-do-wells, including ringleader Darren (Buck Braithwaite), who is desperate for a large score to elevate their standard of living. They’re also generally bad people, with few good traits and even fewer sympathetic ones. This film is almost like a British indie remake of Don’t Breathe, with shitty people breaking into a house to steal a fortune and having to deal with tremendously horrible things once they do. However, as unlikeable as the criminals in Nefarious are, they are in a tough position because of money that they owe a drug dealer, so they feel little choice but to get the money through “nefarious” means (see what I did there?) Sure, it’s not quite “stealing bread when you’re hungry,” but in a world in which the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer, it’s difficult to draw too many moral lines simply on the basis of theft alone.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of other things that make main character Darren a piece of shit, including his abuse of the mentally disabled Clive. I’m not entirely sure whether our sympathies are ever really supposed to rest with Darren and his friends, but they certainly don’t. While no one deserves what the crew has coming to them, it’s certainly not a crowd for which I’d be prepared to shed many tears. The social dynamics in the film are certainly interesting to dive into, though, because there are millions of people in both the UK and America that live this exact type of life. At a certain point, you do have to wonder how much of their actions are truly their own responsibility. Do we expect people to live in these types of circumstances? Do we expect people to just sit there and take it, day in and day out, with no conceivable recourse or escape? And what happens when there is a form of escape available, and it just doesn’t happen to jibe with our social mores? It may not be excusable, but is it at least understandable? Again, better men than me have spent their lives figuring out these very questions, so it’s certainly not up to a horror movie review site to answer, but it’s wonderful that indie horror films are starting to dig into such important social problems.
Rowntree is styling himself as a sort of indie horror Shyamalan, inserting a twist into the end of his films that are almost impossible to predict, but are generally executed extremely well. I certainly won’t divulge the secrets here, but believe me when I say they’re worth the wait. Rowntree does more with less in the gore department than directors with ten times the budget, which is huge praise for an indie director. The way that the film cleverly intercuts its story with footage of police interviews with those involved leave clues as to who may survive what’s coming, but it also avoids giving anything away other than to help the plot move along, providing reasons for the proceedings as well as a better view into the characters in the film. It’s an interesting expository tool, one that is often used after the action rather than during, and Rowntree wields this tool expertly to create an engaging film that never leaves its audience in the dust. It’s a good film while narrowly sidestepping great, but it’s certainly one of the more entertaining indie films that I’ve come across.
Who this movie is for: Indie lovers, Home invasion film fans, Both cops and robbers
Bottom line: Excellently styled and filmed, director Richard Rowntree is an up-and-comer in the indie film world, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both of his films that I’ve been able to watch so far. I’m happy to report I have another feature and a short coming along with these, so I’m excited to be able to take part in his entire filmography! His ideas are fresh, his writing is excellent, and there is a better-than-average quality to his cinematography that will really be a refreshing look for those into indie horror.