Storage 24 (2012)

Review first published in S&S Aug 2012

Storage 24

Synopsis: London, present day. A military plane crashes near a Battersea self-storage facility, disrupting the building’s lights and electronic security shutter system. Recently split couple Charlie and Shelley are there to divide their property, accompanied by Charlie’s best friend (and Shelley’s secret lover) Mark  and Shelley’s friends Nikki and Chris, when they become locked in the building, along with its caretaker, the engineer sent to repair the shutters, and (unbeknownst to all) the aggressive alien creature that the plane had been transporting. The engineer is viciously attacked in the basement. Chris sees the alien drag the caretaker into the roofspace. Bloody and traumatised, Chris flees, but is killed by the creature. Eccentric resident David leads the rest to his lockable unit. Mark and Charlie crawl through ventilation pipes to get tools from other units, but Mark flees when Charlie is cornered. Distracting the creature with a toy dog, Charlie rejoins the group. To save the others, David faces the creature and is killed. While Charlie and Nikki find the equipment for opening the shutters on the dying engineer, Shelley is captured by the creature, and becomes trapped while escaping. Without cowardly Mark’s help, Charlie and Nikki rescue Shelley, launching fireworks (strapped to a toy dog) at the creature. Charlie has to force the door when Mark blocks their entrance to the locked basement. After the creature bites Mark’s face off, Charlie kills it, aided by Shelley and Nikki. They get out, only to find London in flames from an alien invasion.

Review: Viewers who recently complained that Ridley Scott’s unofficial Alien-prequel Prometheus lacked the slasher-style scares that made Scott’s original ‘haunted house in space’ so terrifyingly memorable might well find that Johannes Roberts’ Storage 24 provides both solution and antidote to their Alien obsessions. Roberts’ previous feature F (2010) established his faculty with claustrophobic cat-and-mouse and unpleasant gore, so the setting of Storage 24 in a Battersea self-storage building, complete with half-lit corridors, labyrinthine ventilation shafts and a cobwebbed basement, places the director right in his element, especially when he is pitting a group of haplessly trapped humans against a predatory extra-terrestrial monster. Roberts and his DP Tim Sidell favour tight close-ups to ramp up the tension, but do not shy away from fully revealing their creature – an anthropoid abomination of teeth, claws, practical and CG effects.

So while Storage 24 makes for slickly competent SF horror, it suffers, as perhaps its very title implies, from a by-numbers approach to Alien-style materials that have already been revisited since 1979 in a dizzying surfeit of sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs. What most obviously distinguishes the film from the many other entries in this subgenre is its Britishness; but while Joe Cornish’s similarly British Attack the Block (2010) used interplanetary invaders as a mirror to the alienation and beleaguered aggression of South London’s urban underclass, Storage 24 engages so little with the sociopolitical specificities of its metropolitan setting that it might just as easily have been set in another country – or indeed in space.

Offsetting all the murderous mayhem in the dark is the character arc of Charlie, played by the ubiquitous Noel Clarke (who also produced and had the original idea for the screenplay). Devastated at having been dumped by long-term girlfriend Shelley (Antonia Campbell-Hughes), Charlie is spoiling for a fight. “If she says one word…” he tells his friend Mark (Colin O’Donoghue), and even if the masking tape dispenser that he brandishes like a gun renders the threat banally ridiculous (in a film that is often very funny), his rage is palpable. Charlie will gradually learn to let go of Shelley, but at the same time his hatred and aggression are merely transferred to the creature itself. Significantly, much as he gave Shelley a stuffed monkey on their first date, Charlie’s first contact with the alien is also expressed through a toy animal. Pent up even before he gets locked into Storage 24, Charlie’s path to physical and emotional release comes from burning, pummeling and skewering a monster that, like Shelley only more literally, tears men’s hearts out. Meanwhile eccentric David (Ned Dennehy), self-exiled in the facility to escape his “poisonous whore” ex-wife, makes the film’s link between women and aliens explicit by confronting the creature with the words, “You’re just like my wife.” It is a disquieting strand of misogyny in a film too focused on its male lead to make much of its female characters. If Alien brought feminism (of sorts) to horror, Storage 24 represents an uncomfortable regression.

Anton Bitel