“I am here for the kids, but I am no longer here for you”
Art often comes from a personal space; many express it freely but few are able to craft a vision from that idiosyncratic arena that can be both ensnaring and entertaining, while offering an intimate peek into the artist’s life. Father of Flies offers both.
The film tells an emotionally-driven story of a family – told chiefly through the eyes of brother and sister, Michael and Donna (Keaton Tetlow and Page Ruth, respectively) – struggling to deal with the forced removal of the mother (Sandra Andreis does a superb damaged damsel) out of the household and replaced with “the other woman” (played by the capable Camilla Rutherford), and the subsequent supernatural forces that invade their lives. Director Ben Charles-Edwards (Set the Thames on Fire & Will Nature Make a Man of Me Yet?) drew inspiration from his personal experiences as a child witnessing his own parents’ deteriorating relationship, which often featured misplaced blame, guilt and anger.
The horror elements lurk in its dense atmosphere, but unease emanates from the main character: a young, vulnerable Michael whose vivid imagination often finds him hearing or seeing things that may – or may not – be there; not to mention the lingering unease brought on by the familial conflict which further provokes his already anxious mind. Once his father, Richard (the late Nicholas Tucci, and to whom the film is dedicated) abruptly leaves for an important business trip, the stage is set for a glacial exploration into the psychological horror that haunts the inhabitants of the beautifully isolated home surrounded by bare trees and clear white snow.
An aspect of Father of Flies you immediately notice is the electric face massage mask that Coral wears (as seen above). She often wears it while staring into nothing – one brilliantly eerie scene has her slow-dancing by herself to The Cure’s “Lullaby” while looking out into the night-time darkness; the lyrics to the song provide a wry nod to the all-consuming dark forces coming to claim the family. Coral’s mask is just one of several metaphors peppered throughout the movie; Some are heavy-handed, and others are more deviously simple.
The unusual spookiness is matched by the sparse music and sound design accompanying the film, emphasising the loneliness that each character exudes without saying a word, never being overbearing but being just subtle enough to nudge your emotions in the desired direction. Yes, the music still swells with the jump scares – which are thankfully spaced out well enough to not become stale.
If you’re eagle-eyed, you will spot the twist well before it happens; As for the big reveal itself, you’ll immediately know what originally inspired it the moment it happens. What precedes the third act will leave you somewhat confused if you weren’t paying attention, but the loose ends are eventually tied up.
One nit-pick has to go to the under-usage of Colleen Heidemann, who plays the scene-stealing Mrs Start. The white-haired, solitary neighbour strongly comes off as the witch in the woods – Richard even cracks a joke about broomsticks early on – but this is never expanded upon. Her stage presence provided much-welcomed warmth and kindness into the film.
Father of Flies delivers what you hope for in an indie film and more, especially with one particularly effective misdirection scare in Michael’s room. The film’s tension barely lets up and you’re forever locked into a “wait for it” mindset until the big pay-off in the end. There are scenes that could have enjoyed more dialogue and despite a minor wobble in its final act, it still manages to guide the audience to its heart-wrenching conclusion, leaving you to twiddle your thoughts as the credits roll.
The film is expected to see a general UK release in 2022.