11th Sep2015

‘Containment’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Louise Brealey, Lee Ross, Sheila Reid, Andrew Leung, Hannah Chalmers, Pippa Nixon, Luke McGibney, William Postlethwaite, Christos Lawton, Gabriel Senior | Written by David Lemon | Directed by Neil McEnery-West

containment-poster

When deadbeat dad and failing artist Mark (jeez, close to the bone much?) wakes up in his dingy London council flat late one morning, he thinks the worst that’s going to happen is losing a custody battle for his child. While that is pretty bad, Mark’s day soon goes even further downhill when he discovers that he and every other tenant in his estate has been sealed into their homes and they may or may not have been exposed to a deadly virus.

Thankfully, the dividing walls between abodes are so thin (helpfully demonstrated by Mark’s elderly neighbour who berates him for being a sad-sack from the comfort of her living room) that our downbeat hero is soon joined by a pair of plaster-busting brothers. The group grows as the characters try to find safety in numbers; escape seems like a distinct impossibility, and those people in gas masks outside don’t seem too friendly…

Containment has a decent enough premise for a low-budget thriller (minimal locations, small cast), but doesn’t really know what to do with it other than ape horror movies that similarly throw disparate characters together to see if they’ll forge an alliance or break at the first sign of weakness. You’d think there’d be a sense of claustrophobia, what with being superglued into cramped spaces and narrow-corridor encounters with ‘infected’ people, but the camera largely maintains a tedious televisual distance from its characters, never giving us a sense of how they might be feeling (until they announce that to the world).

I’ve a certain fondness for tower-block horror. The sexually-charged and downright disturbing Shivers set the benchmark, which was aptly vaulted by the slightly more recent (and relevant) Attack the Block. Both films have distinct tones and characters, even if some are simply well-drawn archetypes. Containment could learn a lesson from Cronenberg and Cornish; the weirder the problem, the more interesting the movie.

Alas, there are no erotic parasites or alien pitbulls to be found here – we’re strictly in Glum Realism territory. The only monsters the film’s characters have to deal with are other people, both those infected by the ill-defined disease and those who aren’t. But the conflicts between them are so overt and the morality clearly-drawn that there’s no space for the audience to make their own assessment. Mark makes one tough (but justifiable) decision after another as his rapidly diminishing gang try to find a way out of their home-turned-prison.

Partway through the film it becomes clear that this isn’t an isolated incident: the hazmat-suited government officials are attacked outside the blocks by angry locals and their initial concentrated presence dissipates quickly. The world is ending, evidently, and everyone’s missing it, including the audience.

But the end of the world means, of course, the end of society. And there’s social commentary galore in Containment, obligatory for any modern British film that includes working-class accents: isolate the poor, the old and the disadvantaged, feed them misinformation and eventually exterminate them when they’ve cottoned to your game. It isn’t a fresh or subtle attack on the ruling class, and the film’s resolution is so mired in obvious sentimentality that it’s hard to take its supposed concerns seriously.

The movie can’t decide whether it wants to have a message, be a gritty apocalypse movie on a shoestring budget or simply be about the relationships forged between strangers in dire circumstances, so it doesn’t end up as any one of those things. A more focused script and a less generic directorial style could have made this a tense, taut thriller with some bite, but as it stands Containment is all gums.

Containment is out in the UK from September 11th.

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