Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Shane Mather
Starring Andy Callaghan, Sid White, Johnny Lynch, David Frost
Distributed by Masochist Pictures
The recent hot topic for conspiracy theorists, “Chemtrails”, forms the basis of independent British filmmaker Shane Mather’s latest flick Terror Nation, in which a gang of criminals find themselves embroiled in events far more sinister and violent than they could have imagined after forcefully making off with a briefcase from a Government office.
When their getaway driver is nowhere to be seen, the thugs murder an amorous couple and a bystander before stealing their vehicle and making their getaway. Lead robber Johnny (Andy Callaghan) gets in touch with their boss for instructions on where to deliver the briefcase only to find him suspiciously changing his mind and directing them to the secluded village of Somer Leyton. There, our core group come across some very strange locals and eventually a full on hazmat-suited army of Government killers led by the batshit crazy Lennard (David Frost).
Of course, the briefcase contains a substance that our masters in Office will kill to retrieve – a substance that can turn the entire population into mindless drones, and Somer Leyton is the testing ground.
The cast is by and large just about passable, with the exception of lead actors Andy Callaghan and Sid White. Callaghan’s on-screen presence and acting ability shine with a professionalism the majority of the other players lack. David Frost stands out with his tendency to wildly overact as head villain Lennard, obviously attempting to ramp up the crazy factor by widening his eyes and shouting for most of his scenes. The script does a decent enough job in itself of making Lennard a bona-fide madman, but Frost’s attempts reduce it to unintentionally comedic levels of hyperbole and stilted reciting-memorised-dialogue line delivery. Johnny Lynch similarly does his best to emulate a British Joe Pesci as the psychotic Paul, but again the script does more to serve his recklessly violent character than the actor himself.
Gore in Terror Nation is plentiful, with countless super-bloody squibs and impressive low budget splatter (including a particularly wince-inducing stabbing) drenching the screen, and some rather surprising necrophilia. In future though, it would be beneficial for Mather to exercise some restraint and refrain from displaying almost every single bullet impact in cheap slow motion. Besides that, action is generally handled well, with the climactic shootout being highly reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah.
Visually, director Mather has done a decent job considering his budgetary restraints – everything having been shot with natural lighting and not looking much worse off despite it. An over abundance of static shots means the film tends to lack dynamics and, ultimately, a level of visual creativity however this is something that Mather readily accepts and voices his dissatisfaction with in his accompanying commentary. Perhaps the aforementioned overuse of slow motion is an attempt to counteract this.
The pacing doesn’t seem to suffer, though, except for a random and poorly filtered “day for night” dogging scene. For those in the US unfamiliar with the concept of “dogging”, it essentially involves people who take to the woods for a spot of random sex with like-minded strangers. Here, we have a few minutes of a murky softcore three-way while our lead watches on from the bushes like a 15-year-old discovering the greatest perversion he’s ever encountered. It’s a completely unnecessary throwaway scene obviously designed to add some gratuitous sex to the movie, but does nothing but stop the proceedings dead in their tracks. Hey, I’m all for more tits but when you’re wishing the film would just get on with it something is very, very wrong.
So, Terror Nation has more than its share of problems but there’s a shining light underneath. Andy Callaghan is definitely destined for good things and director Mather certainly has a lot of filmmaking chops in him. The movie itself would have benefited from a few more passes to John Shand’s script to tweak the finer details, though Mather does have a good handle on narrative. The final product, as we have it, is better than a lot of the home-grown dreck that makes it to DVD shelves but is very nearly overcome by glaring problems. What’s incredibly impressive though, is the reported budget of £1500. If this is indeed the shooting figure, Mather deserves a lot of respect for what he’s achieved. While not a great movie overall, Terror Nation marks him as a developing talent to look out for amidst the independent circuit.
As mentioned earlier, the DVD release of the movie contains an audio commentary with Shane Mather and producer Nicola Fenn. This particular commentary is listenable mostly due to Mather’s constant stream of information about the trial s and tribulations of shooting such a low budget piece of work. He comes across as an extremely down to earth and modest fellow which makes this an easy one to get through with not much dead time either. One particular problem, which is noted on the disc menu, is that while the film presented here is the Unrated Director’s Cut, Mather’s commentary was recorded to the original cut. Due to this, the final third or so of the film is out of sync with the commentary, which unfortunately has quite some impact on the effectiveness of it.
Next up is another commentary with actors Andy Callaghan, Sid White and David Frost. The audio quality here is noted on the menu as not being optimal, so I expected it to be a lot worse than it was. Some slight hissing is present but it’s not a major problem. The three actors give their own insight into making the film and bring up a few good laughs. A few dead spots are grating as the film’s audio doesn’t play under the commentary, however the guys do realise at one point that they’d just stopped talking and were watching the movie for a few moments which gave me a chuckle. Not an essential listen by any means, but welcome all the same.
Next up is a making-of featurette running around 25 minutes. This is certainly worth a look, offering up plenty of behind the scenes footage, bloopers, interviews with the cast and some discussion of the movie and career aspirations with Mather who, again, you can’t help but like.
To round things up we have a stills gallery and trailer. Quite a stuffed release for a little indie flick!
Terror Nation is currently only available on the Masochist Pictures website, and can be ordered in both PAL and NTSC formats with free worldwide shipping. If you’re a fan of no-budget independent filmmaking, you could do a lot worse – but you can also do better.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
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