In association with Glasgow Film Theatre
Imagine if Taken had a protagonist suffering from PTSD and was set in the concrete jungle of London. Reclusive Andrew (David Gyasi) and his promiscuous companion Amy (Pippa Nixon) are admiring the view from his flat when they see beautiful neighbour Kem (Yennis Cheung) attacked by an imposing figure. Having been voyeuristically drawn to Kem for months, Andrew feels compelled to help her, against the suggestion of those he confides in.
The titular panic arises every time Andrew has to do something beyond his capabilities. As a regular citizen he is not equipped to hunt down a kidnapper, but as someone suffering from previous trauma he is petrified of what lies beyond his front door. He has no intimidating friends to call or a hidden armoury. He hopes his moral compass will strengthen him enough to find Kem, regardless of whether that means facing aggressive criminals or crippling bouts of anxiety.
Themes of trafficking and a seedy underbelly to the capital abound, but are dealt with in a refreshing way. Rather than portray anyone as a megalomaniacal villain, Andrew faces a clinical criminal web that functions as a business. There are enough moral ambiguities in Panic to see that it respects its audience – no one needs to be told that human trafficking is bad. Andrew’s fascination with Kem is mostly left unspoken, even if others acknowledge how bizarre it is. Cooked up in his home for months on end, is it any surprise he has turned to fantasising?
In each interaction with Amy, Andrew finds himself playing push and pull in trying to connect with someone who has their own issues. What is left unsaid never feels like a cop-out, but rather justifies why characters are behaving in certain ways. Indeed, Andrew is utterly useless at confrontation despite his impassioned drive, and it would be unbelievable if he were anything but. He lacks intimacy and companionship, and any relationship he has with women either involves staring from the next block of flats or relying on hook up websites.
Its plot is a little by-the-numbers but it is the characters, atmosphere, and questions of morality that make it worth the experience. Andrew is a sympathetic protagonist, but his actions make it debatable if he a likeable person. The film treats its subject with maturity, and this London-based noir thriller is a strong debut from director Sean Spencer.
The film will be screened at Glasgow Film Theatre, followed by a Q&A session with director Sean Spencer on the 19th of January. Tickets are available here.
[Scott Wilson – @HeartofFire]