Uncle David (David Hoyle) prepares his caravan with sweets in a bowl for his imminent guest. Arriving at 1am in the morning and fleeing the home he shared with his drunken mother, the guest is nephew Ashley (Ashley Ryder).
A young, athletic-looking man, Ashley is also very quietly spoken and childlike in outlook. David takes him under his wing immediately, kissing Ashley several times and telling him how proud he is that he’s finally raised the courage to leave home.
With his trusty teddy bear tightly clasped in his hand, Ashley is ushered into bed beside his uncle.
The following morning, David is up at the crack of dawn and encouraging the shattered Ashley to rise and shine, and to make the most of the sunny day before them. And so they share hours of fun together – eating ice cream, taking quiet walks through nearby fields and talking a great deal (well, David speaks for the most part and Ashley listens).
David, it transpires, is highly opinionated and deeply sceptical of "normality". He scorns those who seek mortgages, marriage, and promotion: his is a life separated from convention, and he mocks those around him with pseudo-intellectual sarcasm. Ashley, dumb and impressionable, simply soaks it all in like a sponge.
There are clearly facets of this relationship that unsettle from an early stage. The tenderness these two share is implied as sexual from the start, while David’s rhetoric occasionally takes a turn for the more seethingly violent – such as when his illustration of familial disharmony results in the hammering to pieces of several porcelain dolls in front of a quivering Ashley.
For the most part, David remains calm and complimentary about his young relative. He repeatedly tells him how proud he is of what Ashley has arrived at the caravan to do. Just what that is exactly, is something that is kept closely guarded for much of the film. But the clues are there along the way: Ashley’s talk of what people will say when he’s dead; David’s insistence that "death is the hallmark of nature" ...
The drama unfolds leisurely, all the while drawing towards what seems to be an inevitably grim finale. In the meantime, we get to see this odd couple share deepest thoughts and concerns, show real affection towards one another, enjoy frivolous moments (rides on the pier; dancing to a Muse-like tune while dragged up) and even fuck – an event brought on by Ashley’s manipulation of a game played with ‘love heart’ candies.
Things turn steadily darker in the second half as drug use features more predominantly and David’s role of carer takes on a more overtly domineering bent. It all gets as bleak as the grey Isle of Sheppey skylines.
Shot in less than a week on and around a seaside-set caravan park on the aforementioned Isle of Sheppey, UNCLE DAVID is largely a two-header with Hoyle and Ryder improvising much of what unfolds.
Hoyle is best known as former drag act Divine David, popular in the 1990s for his manic shows which invariably included the likes of biting social satire and even self harm. In more recent years, he could be seen as Doug Rocket in Chris Morris’ TV show ‘Nathan Barley’. UNCLE DAVID marks his debut as a feature filmmaker (he directs alongside Mike Nicholls and Gary Reich).
Ryder meanwhile is a star of gay porn, with credits like DRUNK ON SPUNK and STRETCH THAT HOLE to his credit. As loose as the plot is for UNCLE DAVID, it’s fair to say he ‘co-wrote’ the film with Hoyle.
At this point, you may be thinking these two hardly sound like the type to produce the filmic goods. But UNCLE DAVID is a pleasant surprise. The improvisational nature of the performances works most of the time, resulting in believable and naturalistic scenes between the two actors. Dialogue never feels forced and the steady, well-controlled pace dictates that we get to know these characters almost without realising.
Some of David’s rhetoric is hard to swallow, but I took this as being intentional. We all know someone like him in life: a self-important prick who views all other ways of life other than his with cynicism, and who patronises those around him with ‘profound’ philosophies (read: pretentious bollocks). What disturbs here is how Ashley takes it all in, and how convincing it is that he would.
There is little in the way of subtext: this is quite explicitly a paedophile grooming a youth. More so, his own relation. But what makes UNCLE DAVID interesting and lifts it above such tasteless exploitation is its lack of sensation, its subjective account of the smaller moments that lead to a more devastating outcome. That, and the fact that David is not only grooming his nephew for sex (something he seems indifferent about), but for something that he believes will serve a greater purpose.
The two actors are very good, especially Hoyle who manages to be pathetic and truly sinister all at once. It’s remarkable to consider he suffered from swine flu throughout the filming. The exterior settings are beautifully atmospheric. Empty beaches and barren, murky countryside locations are employed to excellent effect in this keenly photographed, well-edited affair.
Everything builds subtly for the bulk of the film, with suggestion being one of its greatest strengths. The 18 certificate is earned by a couple of brief moments of hardcore sex glimpsed on a TV screen in the caravan.
Tim Hauer’s songs are a good addition, fitting the laconic mood and sense of ill-foreboding well. In fact, despite occasionally muffled dialogue and some overly dark scenes – traces of the miniscule production’s £4,000.00 budget – this is proficient low-key filmmaking, the likes of which this country used to produce back in the early 80s.
Peccadillo Pictures are releasing UNCLE DAVID on DVD in December 2011 (it’s late October as I write). The screener disc provided for review purposes included the uncut film and nothing else. No menus, nothing.
The film however looked good in a generally colourful, reasonably sharp 16x9 presentation. Any murkiness or softness in the picture is no doubt due to the ultra-cheap production values of the film itself.
English 2.0 audio was clean and clear, aside from the aforementioned (infrequent) instances of muffling. Again, these seem to be inherent of the way the film was shot.
The DVD release is set to also include an audio commentary track and three early sketches featuring Hoyle expanding on the title role.
Not to everyone’s taste, granted, UNCLE DAVID is nevertheless an original and disturbing take on modern love stories.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Peccadillo Pictures|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|