Wednesday 22 June 2016

Film: 'Chicken'

With no exaggeration, this is probably the most most unpleasant and gruelling film I've seen in years, and only wish that I hadn't put myself through it.
I was attracted by the high IMDb rating (currently 7.8) as well as very positive reviews, including a rapturous endorsement from Sir Ian McKellan, no less.
It's relentlessly bleak, a story from which all moments of levity have been vanquished. I just can't imagine anyone coming out after a viewing and feeling well-satisfied that they've just had an 'enjoyable' experience.

As for the story itself, a British film set in southern East Anglia, it centres on two brothers living in a dilapidated caravan in an open field - the younger one, fifteen years old (Scott Chambers), is what in my day used to be referred to as being "a bit simple". He has a pet hen which he dotes on and talks to, either in its ramshackle 'coup', or carrying it about under his arm.  He alternately worships and fears his domineering and irascible brother of twice his age (Morgan Watkins), who drifts from job to job, picking up any work he can in order to keep them both surviving, though it's clear that the elder is tired of having the burden of the other, and always puts himself first. There are heated exchanges between them, culminating in an horrific assault on the younger - one of several points in the film where I just had to look away.
Meantime (and I did find this questioned the plausibility of the story) there's a chance encounter between the younger man and a well-to-do young lady of twenty-one (Yasmin Paige) who lives nearby with her mother, and she befriends him.
There is a slight condescension in her attitude but it's not without sympathy to both his plight and his 'condition'. They start seeing each other occasionally, his behaviour trying her to the limits.

Something I haven't mentioned yet which, as many will know, is a big thing with me though less so with most others. (I don't think that this aspect - animals - has affected my final verdict on the film).
Within the first few minutes we see a slaughtered pig close-up, hung up by its hind legs. Then immediately after that we see a run-over rabbit which the younger man picks up and takes back where he has a small shed of such recovered animal corpses which he places in various poses and makes clothes for them. (I shan't say what happens to the hen.)
It took some mental effort but I do think I managed to put all that aside and concentrate on the story of the two men and the young woman.

One major criticism I have of Joe Stephenson's debut feature film (he's also done a bit for TV) is that there's far too much mood-setting background music - and what I objected to particularly is that on a number of times when the younger brother is seen, we have underlining pizzicato strings as if to emphasise the character's playfully child-like quality. Totally unnecessary, I felt. Why not just let the person and the situation speak for themselves?

One good thing going for it is that it's under 90 minutes in length, even though it felt longer.

If the film hadn't ended on just a glimmer of hope, albeit fragile and just passing, I would have found the entire venture so depressingly downbeat that I'd have needed a stiff drink immediately on my return an hour ago - which is actually quite a good idea right now, anyway.

Most will call this a 'powerful' film, and there's no doubt that it does pack quite a punch (oops, sorry!). All the acting is top drawer stuff - and I'm sure the director is pleased with achieving what he aimed for. As for 'entertainment', in my books I'd call it as being one for the die-hard masochists. Now, where's that whisky? - Neat!....................3.


  1. I dunno about this one ... the animal slaughters alone kind of give me pause.

    1. I don't think anyone can deny that it's a toughie to watch, Bob. I know I'd feel the same way if my discomfort was confined only to the human elements, but for me the animals do push it right over the edge.

  2. Ray,
    The good news is that I received your blog post by e-mail. Now I won't miss any which makes me very happy. Thanks for taking that extra step so I won't miss any of your film reviews.
    Now to your movie review. As soon as I saw the title "Chicken" I knew the chicken was going to get it. I detest film makers who use animal cruelty as "entertainment." It is a cheap and easy trick to satisfy the blood lust and sadistic audience they are appealing too. Almost always, once I encounter this kind of filmmaking, gratituous violence of any kind, I will stopped watching the movie. I push the Eject button and return that DVD to Netflix. I put that kind of activity right put here with child pornogrophy. It is not entertainment. You can be sure I'll pass on this movie. Thanks for the warning.

    1. Ron, this film is actually based on a stage play, so obviously in that setting the killings would have been very stylised and symbolic. But film always requires a literal interpretation, presumably in the belief that a cinema audience is too thick to get it otherwise.
      Did you ever see the film of 'Equus'? I saw it on the London stage before it was filmed with Richard Burton as the child-psychologist. On stage the horses were played by men wearing horses' heads, and their blinding by the boy (because they had witnessed his failure to consummate) was much more powerful than in the film where, using real horses, it just looked crazily vicious, brutal - and unnecessary. (Of course, it hardly needs saying that no horses were actually harmed in the film-making).
      But your general point is a valid one. It's rather like those hideous people putting scenes of animal torture and sacrifice on YouTube - though I've never seen and will never deliberately see one.

      Very pleased to know that my e-mail link is working. Thanks for putting meright on that. Now I'm waiting for the number of my followers to grow.