Aaaaaaaah! (2015)

Review first published (in a different form) by Sight and Sound

Steve Oram is an actor best known for gadding about the periphery of genre, whether as the serial-killing caravanner Chris in Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (2012) – which he co-wrote – or as the grizzled copper in Ivan Kavanagh’s meta-cinematic ghost story The Canal (2014). Now Aaaaaaaah!, his feature debut as director, writer and editor, guarantees him a place not only at the top of any alphabetised film list, but also at the forefront of a peculiarly British strand of filmmaking (associated with Wheatley and the production house Rook Films) that merges the banally accessible with the wildly experimental.

Oram plays Smith, a stranger who emerges from the woods with his subservient companion Keith (Tom Meeten) in tow, and disrupts the already fragile dynamics of a family living on the city’s edge. Playing out like the Dawn of Man sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) with a side serving of Battenberg cake, or like Teorema (also 1968) with added atavism, this primitivist film, set in contemporary (if Seventies-worshipping) times, goes utterly ape on modern living, reducing all dialogue to grunts, gibbers and squawks, and all human behaviour to its most animalistic level.

It is a funny, shocking call to devolution, revealing us all for the domesticated but barely civilised creatures that we are. With its irreverent, unsettling social satire and much monkeying about, Aaaaaaaah! first dismembers and then reassembles the primeval drives of patriarchy in its own singular way, and will no doubt elicit from viewers plenty of ooooohs, hahahas and even the odd ‘huh?’.

Anton Bitel