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THE LEVELLING (2016) review

March 23, 2017

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written by: Hope Dickson Leach
produced by: Rachel Robey
directed by: Hope Dickson Leach
rated: R (for language and brief nudity)
runtime: 83 min.
U.S. release date: March 24, 2017 (limited) 

 

“You don’t accidentally put a gun in your mouth.”

 

Is there anything in the world of cinema more reliably depressing than independent British films set in poverty stricken rural areas? The new drama “The Levelling” continues the trend, featuring a mud-soaked trip to a burnt out husk of a town outside the rural county of Somerset where veterinarian, Clover (Ellie Kendrick), was born and raised. The twenty-something returns home to her family’s farm following the death of her brother Charlie (Joe Blakemore). What she finds and learns is even more depressing and devastating.

She finds her father, Aubrey (David Troughton), living in a trailer beside their flood destroyed home. She is told that her brother committed suicide, but nothing about the official version of the events lines up for Clover. This is only exacerbated by her father’s refusal to acknowledge what happened, and the equally frustrating aloofness on display by her brother’s best friend James (Jack Holden). As she begins to dig deeper, it requires her to pick at old family wounds and as they reopen (some of them in explosive fashion) the damage they do may be irreparable.

 

 

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Thoroughly depressed yet? It’s a slog just reading that handful of descriptive sentences, let alone watching them play out over eighty-three excruciating minutes.

First time feature director Hope Dickson Leach clearly takes her cues from the work of Lynne Ramsay and Ken Loach, but her film never soars like theirs do. It’s so deeply-rooted in the mud and the stubbornness of its characters that it can’t get above them, or at least far enough away from them for the audience to gain some perspective. The levity, when it comes, is not nearly impactful enough to shift the tone away from funereal. The film plays like a death march, but doesn’t seem to know that the death occurred as the film began. It uses death as its trump card, but plays it so often that it begins to become meaningless. When the very real threat of death pops up again in a very unexpected circumstance, the moment doesn’t land as hard as it should because the film has cried wolf about it so often.

“The Levelling” is more or less a three-hander, with Kendrick doing most of the heavy lifting. Considering the film was written, produced, and directed by women, it’s no surprise that the meatiest character is the only female in the triad. Kendrick (probably best known for “Game of Thrones”) underplays nearly everything, giving the moments when she does let her personality shine through more effect. It’s a fine performance, if a tad monotonous only by design. Her supporting gentlemen do equally fine work, and capitalize on the ample amounts of melancholy provided them by the script.

“The Levelling” is a fine, if utterly depressing film. I really hate to disparage competent work done by women in a male dominated industry, but the film just doesn’t rise above its rather gloomy setting. Had the film not meandered so much toward what ends up seeming like a foregone conclusion, I might have admired it more. In its current state, however, I’ll be content with my lone visit to this place and time with these characters. Fine for a visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

 

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