LFF 2014: Bypass

Oliver Lunn

In 2008, British filmmaker Duane Hopkins helmed his feature debut Better Things, a miserablist tale of drug-addled teens from broken homes in the Cotswolds, in which he cast a handful of former heroin addicts. It had the grim visual palette of an anti-smoking ad but the aspirations of a realist drama in the vein of Alan Clarke’s bleak Christine. Now, six years later, Hopkins has served up the same inert, feel-bad dish, with Bypass.

The ‘family issues’ story follows Tim, a teenager from a council estate struggling to singlehandedly look after his wayward younger sister while their mum is terminally ill and their father absent. As if that wasn't enough, Tim (a young Bez lookalike) is dodging balifs, trying to make ends meet, and has his declining health to deal with. Needless to say he has a lot on his plate, and there’s not a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

En route to this story are the desperately artful visuals, an odd accompaniment to a seemingly straightforward social realist drama: slowmo shots, post-production glare, shallow focus, hazy frames, incessant ambient hums. ‘Kitchen sink’ has never been so stylized. But the film’s try-hard lyricism fails to make the story any more intimate or poetic; characters are glimpsed through windows and reflective surfaces, from behind furniture as if voyeuristically, in what seems like a poor attempt to mask the shoddy acting. Which it doesn’t, by the way.

With downtrodden characters from impoverished suburbs, Hopkins' film might superficially be lumped into the same pool of social realist films as those of Clio Barnard, Andrea Arnold and the Dardenne brothers. But evidently there’s a gulf between Bypass and those thematically similar films. Whereas the other directors’ work used minimal means to tell their moving quotidian tales, Hopkins' affected film piles on the flashy camera angles and post-production work, which, while failing to dazzle, doesn't really amount to anything.  

Bar one thrilling police chase shot on shaky, disorientating hand-held, there’s really nothing engaging, original or memorable about this grim, po-faced British clunker.

Follow Oliver on Twitter: @OliverLunn

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