The Modern Gothic: Tyrannosaur

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                                                          “In Jurassic Park, you know the movie, there’s a scene where the kids are scared, they’re looking out the glass and they hear the Tyrannosaur coming. As it thumps its way towards them…thump, thump, thump…the glass starts to ripple… My wife was a big lady, and you’d hear her going up the stairs and it was like thump, thump, thump….I swear if I had a cup of tea on the sideboard you’d see the same ripples in my tea. So I called her the Tyrannosaur.”

-Joseph, Tyrannosaur

Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is just about to explode all over cinemas, and GOF have adopted a veil of darkness in anticipation. The highly successful part one of the Sin City franchise splashed audiences with neo-noir style, drawing on many genre influences to build its modern format. But there are other filmmakers that have been setting up new avenues of exploration in the re-writing of genre classics for a modern context, and the most poignant, the boldest, and the best, in my opinion, came into being in 2010.

Paddy Considine was always going to be a brilliant feature film director. Seeing as Tyrannosaur (2010) is as expansion of his 2004 award-winning short Dog Altogether, which sets the bleak, enraged tone of this dysfunctional-man-meets-woman story, the rich display of character exploration we are given is no shock. Considine focuses all of the energy of the frame onto the actor and allows him/her to express themselves in a mastery of space that is encapsulating – a style of directing practiced by his long-term friend and collaborator Shane Meadows. With Tyrannosaur, Considine develops the tone of what Meadows initialized with Dead Man Walking (1995) and This Is England (2006): the characters inhabit a wonderfully uncanny, familiar-but-not periphery space between eerie gothic, expressionist influence and British bleak realism.

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The photography of Tyrannosaur merges high-key lighting, deep shadows, low-saturated color and bleak broken scenery, as if the city and its inhabitants are sinking out of existence and leaving only an ugly, dark stain of themselves. They have lost the will to impact on the world around them: Joseph (Peter Mullan) like a stone man only able to express himself in spurts of anger, being slowly brought closer to life again by Hannah (Olivia Colman), clinging to her faith and alcohol as a means of keep herself going in the midst of a torturous marriage to an abusive husband (Eddie Marsan). In one scene , Joseph sits shrouded in shadows like a brooding monster, contemplating his prey (the neighbour’s dog), who’s woolfy shadow is projected onto the wall behind him, luridly mingled with the curtain’s net pattern {above insert}. The light is so expressionistic that it is almost a surreal construction, evoking classic gothic compositions such as in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Robert Weine, 1920) and M (Fritz Lang, 1931). Mullan’s Joseph is the monster, the angry ‘Tyrannosaur’, but we see something reawakened in him by Hannah, who reminds him how to communicate with someone without using anger as the vehicle.

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Still from Fritz Lang’s ‘M’

Considine conjures beauty where there shouldn’t be: on a bus in the glazed reflection of Hannah as she rests her head on the window and her orb-like dark eyes bulge with heavy emotion; in the dark green corner of the pub as Joseph sits, bent on his memories, his stubble just showing in a dim synthetic light, his face cracked with terrible experience; in the silence and space between Joseph and Hannah where you can feel some sort of emotional antidote rising in the air, the two of them drawn to each other for support, and liking each other, unexpectedly. It is truly how these two characters knock against each other, testing each other’s capacities of defense, throwing whatever punches they can – anger, violence, religion – and finally ending up in a place of mutual support, that makes this film so successful. Just as they cling to each other, we cling to the tender moments between them to save us from the nasty world they live in.

The emphasis on the unavoidable, drowning reality of these character’s lives is undeniably branded with Ken Loachian, British-realist influence. But there is so much deep texture in the frame, so much evocative richness in the light and shadows, so many stretching moments of weighted silence in which characters morph into monsters before our eyes, that Considine creates a space more surreal and stylised, like a nightmare, in which we can truly experience the horror of these people’s lives.

Verdict: Exceeds all expectations for his directorial debut, and sets a very exciting standard. Olivia Colman, Peter Mullan and Eddie Marsan are scarily convincing – DINOSAUR!

What’s going on now for the stars of Tyrannosaur?

R7A7166-copyMullan is all set to appear in Terence Davies’s Sunset Song (long anticipated screen adaption of Gibbon’s classic)….. alongside Agnes Deyn.

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Marsan is starring in Still Life by Uberto Pasolini which looks to be truly dynamic and has rave reviews (love Eddie… everything he touches is golden).

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Colman, who always seems to be a resident on UK TVs, is currently working on series 2 of Broadchurch, the compelling police drama, and is narrating The Great War: The People’s Story coming out this weekend.

Never a dull moment…

By Holly

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