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Black Pond
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by Jay Seaver

"Odd even by black comedy standards, but surprisingly engrossing."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Black Pond" starts out as one thing (a thriller), becomes another (a kitchen-sink drama), with a great deal of dark comedy mixed into both, and then by the time it's over, seems to be both and neither. It's a strange result, not just ambiguous, but ambiguous in the most unusual of ways.

The scandal of the Thompson family at Black Pond has gained some notoriety, it seems, and one track taken by the film shows interviews with the participants trying to explain their roles. Alongside that, the affair plays out, beginning when Tom Thomposon (Chris Langham) has a chance encounter with another man while searching for his dog Boy, who has slipped his leash. The man, Blake (Colin Hurley), is peculiarly open in his way, and soon Tom has invited him back to his house for tea. Tom's wife Sophie (Amanda Hadingue), will later say that it was the first real conversation that she and Tom had shared for months, although Blake's lack of boundaries does later seem odd, at the very least. An unexpected event brings daughters Jess (Helen Cripps) and Katie (Anna O'Grady) back from London, along with roommate Tim Tanaka (Will Sharpe), and by the time the weekend is over, a series of events will take place that undermines the group's relationships and has the police investigating the lot.

Though one should not overlook the fine work of this film's actresses, it's the men in this film that make the strongest impression out of the cast. Take Colin Hurley, for example, whose first job in the movie is to make Blake seem peculiar in a way that both puts the audience off and still draws them in as certainly as he does the Thompsons. It's the sort of role Zach Galifianakis has made a career of playing for laughs made more real and ambiguous, with an amazing undercurrent of desperation. Then there's Chris Langham as Tom; he elevates a well-meaning lack of awareness past being funny or horrible (though frequently both) to something almost tragic. He's a fool, and probably not very bright, but there are moments when his good intentions are remarkably clear and affecting. On the other end of the spectrum is Simon Amstell, whose Eric Sacks is a comedic character so broad he almost doesn't seem to fit, but his lack of subtlety works - it's the brutally judgmental way that the outside world reacts to a family's internal complications, and other people in general.

Meanwhile, it makes a certain sort of sense to look at Will Sharpe's Tim Tanaka alongside the women of the piece; he's not just first seen keeping house for the sisters, but his participation seems much more passive for much of the the film; he's in the awkward situation of loving both and his every action has him not sure how (or if) to act on that. It's hardly an unexpected way for him to react; though the girls to a certain extent fall into the roles one might expect from their different appearances, they are almost always seen as a pair, with Anna O'Grady and Helen Cripps doing such an excellent job of making them seem like a unit that it's almost inconceivable that anything could possibly come between them, for good or ill. Amanda Hadingue, meanwhile, makes Sophie sadly but not always obviously solitary. She's able to show an intelligence that Tom lacks without being brilliant, and always able to depict what is actually a very functional human being despite never really allowing the audience to forget the seed of depression close to her center.

The actors get to express all this via a remarkably tight screenplay, the sort where scenes in retrospect seem to be serving dual purposes; the funny bits become evidence of just how weakly this family is being held together. Their three-legged dog winds up a sort of perfect symbol of the group; though energetic and seemingly robust, the damage is obvious to see in many ways. Filmmakers Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe set mysteries up and then place quiet deflations where most would put shocks.

It's the way they tell the story as directors may be most striking to the audience, though - there's a remarkably full gamut of filmmaking modes and techniques at play. We see the characters both as things play out and as if they are being interviewed for a documentary or television program some time later, although both have an unwavering, close feel to them. In the middle of that, though, they will cut away to quite absurd bits, or go for utter surreality with animation or a certain sequence or two focused on Blake. And the climax is riveting, though in a way that is somewhat difficult to quantify or explain.

"Black Pond" may take a little bit of time to process; even as black comedy, it seems to approach its subject in strange ways. It's seldom less than fascinating, though, especially once it's sunk in a bit.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=23399&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/27/12 00:12:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 48th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 48th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 25-Jun-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
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Directed by
  Tom Kingsley
  Will Sharpe

Written by
  Will Sharpe

Cast
  Chris Langham
  Simon Amstell
  Amanda Hadingue
  Colin Hurley
  Will Sharpe



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