Freshly released from a mental institution, a young, taciturn ‘Man’ (Rory Alexander) with a history of violence and a head full of elusive childhood memories heads back to the only people he knows – the fatherly Dunleavy (Mark Rylance), plus old playmates Daisy (Nell Williams) and Toby (Sebastian Orozco). Yet in writer/director Fridtjof Ryder’s first feature Inland, as this restless, troubled Man is welcomed into Dunleavy’s home on the edge of the Forest of Dean, starts working at Dunleavy’s garage, and hangs out with his new colleague John (Shaun Dingwall) and John’s unsavoury friends, his real quest, carried out in a daze, is to find his missing mother (Eleanor Holliday, voiced by Kathryn Hunter).
”Still there, still solid,” says Dunleavy as he first greets and warmly embraces the Man, adding: “Well seems like you’re where you are now. That’s what matters, that’s what’s good.” Dunleavy is the Man’s anchor to reality, giving him food, lodgings, employment and love – yet the Man himself is otherwise insubstantial and detached from his surroundings, with Ravi Doubleday’s camerawork presenting him as a little boy lost and out of focus. Key to Inland is a paradox: for it has a strong sense of place, yet is utterly disorienting, as the Man, in his struggle to see the wood for the trees, imposes his own fixations and phantasms onto the narrative map. The film is woven from different, conflicting strands: its kitchen sink realism clashes with its fairytale surrealism; the Man’s Freudian journey borders on folk horror, as psychology curdles with the supernatural; it is a mamma’s boy Psycho-drama, and quite possibly a murder mystery. Here Mother – and Mother Earth – keeps her secrets.
‘Lynchian’ is a contentious, at times near meaningless term. It is often used as a lazy shorthand for ‘weird’, with little specific reference to America’s best known surrealist filmmaker beyond that. Yet the very title of Ryder’s film involves an oblique reference to David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE (2006), while its delusory owls, its psychogenic fugues and even the red-lit, shadowy interiors of The Faerie Queene -a bar-cum-bordello where fantasies are staged – all elicit specific elements found in Lynch, along, more broadly, with its commitment to narrative ambiguity. Yet Ryder shifts these Lynchian motifs to the margins of Gloucestershire, and to a deeply localised folkloric sensibility, making them all very much his own. It is a striking debut, its unresolved enigmas built on mood and muddled perspective.
strap: Fridtjof Ryder’s Lynchian psychodrama tracks a disturbed man’s search for his missing mother in a forest both real and folkloric
© Anton Bitel