Writer/director Steve Oram gives us a new kind of Planet of the Apes in this cult oddity. Dylan gives it a look.
Who made it?: Steve Oram (Director/Writer/Co-Producer), Andrew Starke (Co-Producer), Boum Productions/Lincoln Studios/Rook Films.
Who’s in it?: Jade Alexander, Julian Barratt, Missa Blue, Holli Dempsey, Marcus Dempsey, Noel Fielding.
IMDb rating: 4.5/10.
These days, it’s hard to find a movie you’ve never heard of before. You can find the weirdest bit of any film online in seconds, and discover everything from Waters to Solondz in a heartbeat. But flicking through Film4 a few months ago, I saw a move called Aaaaaaaah! playing late a weekday night. I set the flick to record based on the weird title alone. When I actually got around to watching it, I discovered sheer madness at twenty four frames a second!
Imagine our current civilisation, but with every human being having the culture, vocalisation and emotion of a chimpanzee. Imagine a movie with grunting instead of dialogue. There are no written words – even bottles and magazines are marked only with pictures and lines.
Processed food exists, along with fitted kitchens, designer clothes, furniture, and white goods, but meals consist of scooping food off plates. There are animalistic brawls, rampant sex in full display of others, and general behaviour better suited to our simian cousins rather than ourselves.
Before you dismiss this as either an outright fantasy, or an art film not worth another moment of your time, let me assure you that I nearly switched off two minutes in. But I am so glad I stuck with it. For those of you with even a modicum of interest in weird cinema, I hope I can explain why.
The plot (as much as there is one) focuses around Jupiter, a human cast out from the rest of the group, and forced to live in the garden. With a rogue group of humans living in his house, he scavenges outside, and the group live to excess in his domain.
Let’s make something clear – this is experimental filmmaking, not just in terms of being an indie release with specific concepts (like, say, the noir-school style of Brick). The shooting format is pre-4K digital, the sets are friends’ houses, parks and streets, and the dialogue is nonexistent. This looks like it is shot in the actor’s flats because that is exactly how it happened! We are far and away from blockbuster territory here.
However, two factors make Aaaaaaaah! stand out. Firstly, the director and writer is Steve Oram, a comic actor probably best known for his role in Sightseers, but featured in a huge range of British TV shows. From this experience, he gains a cast of super talented and amazingly game actors to star alongside him. Noel Fielding, Julian Barrett, Alice Lowe and Julian Rhind-Tutt are a few of the names you might recognise. This whips out any air of student film from the piece. At the same time, this is a movie that requires the actors to give a lot. This is performance built from friendship, and Oram can push them within a clear circle of trust.
And even within their tiny budget, there is a real attempt at world-building through props and scenarios. All traces of everything with language are removed. All you need to do is look round your kitchen to realise what an impressive feat that is!
But this is not a reduced version of our own existence. There are hints of the outside word beyond their homes, including a cookery show conducted in grunts, which shows you how to smash things together! There is also a basic motorcycle game, with only handlebars for the controllers. This is a film made with care for the concept, and this attention to detail sucks you in further.
These elements combine to give a viewer of Aaaaaaaah! the sensation that they are watching a movie dimension a mere onion skin away from our own. This movie creeped me out by plunging me into a weird world that was similar and yet so alien. After so many years of watching cinema, I am pleased to discover that being shocked and surprised was still possible.
Whatever you think of Aaaaaaaah! as an actual movie-going experience, I do believe Oram made a fascinating film. If the phrase “experimental cinema” makes you want to run, then the title alone will not change your mind. But considering this is sheer self-indulgence by some of our finest comedians, the daring among you should certainly give it a chance.
Rather than picking out an individual scene, here is the trailer, which captures the madness and style of this movie.
- Although the filmmakers went to considerable effort to either cover, remove or replace English language labels (replacing anything with roman letters and arabic numbers with symbols or blanks), there are a couple of instances where this was not avoided. At Herne Hill Velodrome, in some shots signage is changed to be symbols, but in others the picture has simply been mirrored to disguise adverts that surround the track. Most street scenes use mirrored footage to disguise text, but in one darkened shot, the car registration plates are clearly the right way round.