Director: David Gilbank
Screenplay: David Gilbank, Gemma Head, Paul Renhard
Starring: Sid Akbar Ali, Jamie Cymbal, Jo Mousley, Pushpinder Chani
Duration: 86 min
BBFC Certification: 15
An independent, film directed by David Gilbank and written by himself, Gemma Head and Paul Renhard, Polterheist is not your usual gangster film, neither is it your usual comedy horror. Primarily a gangster film, Polterheist attempts to bring in some elements of the horror genre and mixes it together with a little binding black humour. The result? A film that promises a good bit of fun but never fully reaches its potential.
Going into this film I expected an over the top laugh out loud British comedy that ridiculously mashed together the sensationalised world of Oceans Eleven with the dark and sinister world of The Exorcist. Reality? It is a gangster movie set in and around Bradford trying to be as glamourous as Vegas, as gritty as Reservoir Dogs and as dark and disturbing in its humour as A League of Gentlemen that doesn’t quite work throughout. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. It had enough going on to keep my interest, even if the ongoing question of ‘Who is Lucy?’ (we don’t see her till the very end) was obvious from the start.
The film centres around two dim-witted ‘low level’ gangsters, Tariq (Sid Akbar Ali) and Boxy (Jamie Cymbal). After their boss Frank disappears with fifteen grand of drug money, The Norths answer to The Godfather, Uday (Pushpinder Chani), gives Tariq and Boxy 72 hours to recover both Frank and the missing money. There’s just one problem, Frank is dead. They just murdered him.
Following a visit to Frank’s, former wife Tracey (Gemma Head), the likelihood of finding the missing cash is slim. That is until the pair kidnap a psychic medium, known for helping the police to solve an age-old paedophile murder case, and force her to contact Frank from ‘beyond’. What follows is a series of plots to recover the money, holding Frank’s beloved Lucy as collateral. As the narrative unfolds, the story takes a few twists and turns until its ultimate conclusion, proving there really is no honour among thieves.
This film very much has the cinematic feel of a typical gangster movie, or at least most of the time. The opening scene could have been taken straight out of Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. A wide shot of a man tied to a chair, against the backdrop of a large white warehouse, a few blurry figures dotted around in the background and one man persistently beating his victim. Close up shots, short and fast. Other shots throughout the film also have the feel of a Hollywood heist movie. The planning of the heist a typical example with its panning shot of ‘Alice’ (Jo Mousley) talking as ‘Frank’ (the dead gangster) explaining how the heist will go down, but other shots such as the car chase when it all goes wrong and the close ups of ‘Tariq’ (Sid Akbar Ali) and ‘Boxy’ (Jamie Cymbal) talking in the car, all help to convince the viewer, this is a gangster movie, which essentially it is.
Despite managing to convince its audience that this is a high brow heist movie for part of the time, images of Bradford and the Yorkshire countryside quickly bring the viewer back to reality. Whilst some of the scenes almost wrap you up and package you in a (real) glamourous world of revelled American (Yorkshire) gangsters, others bring you back to earth and point out the ridiculousness of this sensationalised lifestyle. In particular, a scene set in a working men’s club harbouring the neighbouring Polish gang in all their Hawaiian shirt glory, mocks the typical stereotyped, black suited gangster.
My one problem with this film lies with its incorporation of elements of the horror genre. Not because I don’t like horror (it’s my favourite genre of film), not because the elements of horror were poorly executed, or because there was a lack of gore, but because I don’t think they were needed. Clearly, the plot required some mention towards the supernatural, Frank is dead after all and they contact him through a medium. However, in my opinion, that is where the horror should either have been developed further or left on the back burner.
The horror element is never fully realised and in all honesty distracts from the plot rather than enhancing it. The film worked perfectly well as a gangster movie. I believed the medium Alice was possessed by Frank. In fact, she might as well have been Frank. The scene of psychic medium Alice summoning up the spirit of Frank, surrounded by demonic looking dead people could have (and subconsciously promised) to take the film in a new direction but didn’t. The overzealous vomiting of Alice as ‘Frank’ takes hold of her body, seemed like forced humour, almost as if the director felt this was what is expected in comedy horror. In short – pointless and unnecessary.
What can be said for this film is that the actors generally do a good job at portraying their characters. Pushinder Chani’s portrayal of the big boss Uday is captivating. His contrasting personas as the brutal torturer and the whiny nephew who needs to pay his uncle 40 thousand diamonds to get out of his arranged marriage, show some development of character. Both Sid Akbar Ali as Tariq and Jamie Cymbal as Boxy also play well off each other, giving convincing performances as the serious frontman and the dumb sidekick. My personal favourite however is Jo Mousley as Alice the psychic medium possessed by Frank. Very rare did I even view her as Alice. She was Frank through and through, to the point that you were actually surprised when the real Alice appeared.
Overall Polterheist works well as a gangster movie even if it is low budget and has some strange if not comical choices of location. It is important to say that this is not a horror film as the title might suggest, and although the film does have scenes of violence and blood, if you’re expecting gore, you could be disappointed. The nature of the black comedy may have the capacity to offend some and not all content and scenes work quite as well as they could, but it’s worth a watch at least once.
Tribal Films presents the early DVD edition available now. On General Release from Early 2019.
Available exclusively from: http://www.tribal.film/polterheist/