Sometimes the most modest project can be the most surprising.
Black Pond, a British indie flick made for £25,000, contains three tremendous performances: by Amanda Hadingue, Chris Langham and Colin Hurley, the latter playing an oddball stranger who stays overnight and leaves a lasting impression.
In one of his most celebrated sketches Jasper Carrott talked about “the nutter on the bus”. Hurley is the 21st-century equivalent and Black Pond is a portrait of the terribly English response to him.
The Thompson family tells the story of Blake (Hurley) and their demonisation by the tabloid Press after he dies during dinner and they bury him in the woods.
Recounted in flashback, the film proceeds through a rambling, existential narrative that combines elements of The Man Who Came to Dinner, Shallow Grave, and Wetherby, in which a stranger commits an act that reverberates through people’s lives forever.
So who is this funny little man? Writer/director team Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe provide lots of clues as Blake connects with Sophie (Hadingue) and her poetry, her daughters (Anna O’Grady and Helen Cripps), husband Tom (Langham) and three-legged dog, Boy.
In fact, it is the dog’s death in the locally named Black Pond that provides the tipping point in this unusual, compelling blend of uncomfortable comedy (this family is beyond dysfunctional) and poignant drama (Blake is damaged, lost, reaching out).
A tiny film with big ambitions that it more than fulfils, Black Pond is a perfect, surreal and relevant snapshot of a wayward family that has outgrown itself.
The dog’s funeral becomes an excruciating, drawn-out ordeal that only Blake seems to understand, yet he is the catalyst for communication and civility.
Langham, Hadingue and Hurley present heartfelt portraits of ordinary, middle-class life. Only comedian Simon Amstell, as a fake shrink, feels like an unwieldy bolt-on.
Black Pond received a preview at the Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds, on Monday and is on limited release across the UK.