Hoard (2023)

“I murdered my mother, you see,” says Maria (Saura Lightfoot Leon, extraordinary) in voiceover at the beginning of writer/director Luna Carmoon’s feature debut Hoard. It is an arresting opening line, and even if its truth is only metaphorical, it nonetheless articulates the intensity of the mother-daughter bond that is one of the film’s central themes, along with grief, guilt and madness.

When we first meet Maria she is still a little girl (Lily-Beau Leach), being taken out late at night by her mother Cynthia (Hayley Squires) to collect items from skips. As troubled as Maria will become, Cynthia is a compulsive hoarder, and while she adores her daughter absolutely, even desperately, the “catalogue of love” that she shares with Maria is expressed in the piles of abandoned detritus that decorate their home, and the filth and vermin that all this rubbish attracts. Failing at school and longing for normalcy, Maria is now old enough to recognise the dysfunction of her home. 

“I’m ashamed of us,” Maria will tell Cynthia in a moment of frustration, before hurriedly retracting her remark and surrendering once more to her mother’s neediness and the ambient insanity. Yet after an accident, Maria will be taken away from Cynthia and housed with Michelle (Samantha Spiro), a nurse and experienced foster carer – and a decade later, in 1994, as Maria finishes high school and teeters on the edge of adulthood, she is still with the loving Michelle – and even calls her ‘mum’ – in a contrastingly clean home and stable environment. 

Three things will converge to throw Maria’s life back into disarray: the sudden departure of her best friend Laraib (Deba Hekmat); the return of Michael (Joseph Quinn), a 30-year-old bin man who had been fostered before Maria by Michelle and is now between homes and about to become a father; and the unexpected arrival of Cynthia’s ashes. As Maria half-reconstructs, half-dreams memories of times past with her mother, those confused primal scenes of earlier love and abjection will spill into the present, informing her emerging sexuality in disturbing ways, and sending her down a spiral of mental illness – with Michael indulging, encouraging and enabling her unhinged excesses while also, in his own way, proving just as damaged and needy. Both these people seek in each other the love that was disrupted in their childhoods, and lose themselves to a risk-laden game of transference and projection.

Like Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper, which came out in the same year, this concerns a young woman having to cope with the loss of a parent, and secretly refashioning her home as a cluttered shrine to memories both sweet and toxic. Sensitive in its observations, generous in its portrayal of characters, and unafraid to get its hands dirty in the uncovering of scarred souls, this hallucinatory journey marks Carmoon as an assured, highly original voice emerging in British independent cinema, and a true treasure in the trash. 

“Grief will take you with it, if you let it,” says an incidental if significant character towards the end, in words that might as well be the film’s own manifesto. For if you yield to Hoard‘s messy trajectory, it will take you on a reeling ride whose coordinates are always bound, however obliquely, both to love and to its clinging, cloying absence. 

strap: Luna Carmoon’s feature debut sees a damaged adolescent slipping through the cracks of her disrupted relationship with her mother

© Anton Bitel