Review: Monsters And Rabbits
In the bowels of The Velvet Onion, you’ll find many a reference to a fascinating short entitled Dead Happy, directed by Nicky Lianos and featuring Alice Lowe and Tom Meeten as Grim Reapers on their 9-5.
Funded by Sky Movies Indie after Lianos won a competition in The Independent Newspaper to bring an idea to the screen, it was a beautifully shot, delicate flight of fancy, that marked Lianos out as a director to keep an eye on.
Those who had seen her previous short, Monsters And Rabbits, could have told you this already. Led by a unique performance from James Bachman, and again featuring Alice Lowe, this earlier piece was shot back in 2009 by Neon Films in collaboration with Film Or Die, and was funded by the UK Film Council and Film London.
Taken from the pen of David Lemon, and produced by Nicky Moss, the film tells the story of a young boy called Michael – a lonely only child whose fantastical adventures in a land of make-believe are punctuated by the omnipresent entity that is Kenny: a large bear-like creature of the boy’s imagination, coated in thick black fur and sporting a black clowns nose and skeletal face paint, brilliantly portrayed by James Bachman.
Drawing on similar territory to the 1990 cult classic film Drop Dead Fred, in which Rik Mayall played the manic tearaway imaginary friend of a young girl in a family falling apart, Kenny is everything Michael isn’t: he’s loud, proud and ever so slightly crude, but unlike Mayall’s Fred, he’s crude in a wholly childlike manner. There’s nothing overtly pernicious about this ridiculous looking beast, as he’s simply an extension of Michael’s character.
The boy himself is shy and unassuming, favouring the worlds in his head over the real-life situations he finds himself in. He doesn’t talk to his teachers much, the other kids avoid him, and his mother is too hooked on teleshopping to even notice him. It’s only when he meets a new girl at school that his interests extend to anything beyond the realms that he and Kenny have created together.
And this is where the crux of the narrative lies – can Michael maintain his friendship with a seemingly non-existent creature whilst his first real friendship with a confirmed life-form is blossoming. To this end, young Becky is every bit of an oddball as Michael is – and she manages to fit into and expand his world immensely in a relatively short space of time, but perhaps understandably, Kenny doesn’t take to this very well.
It’s through Becky that we get to see Alice Lowe, utilising her chameleonic abilities to portray Becky’s chavtastic mother – part tracksuit, part tacky evening dress, part pure gobby attitude. I’m sure we all know at least one young mum like Becky’s, and its a testament to Lowe that she’s able to give such a definite portrayal with a relatively small part.
For really, this short is all about Michael and Becky’s mutual admiration for one another, and poor Kenny’s apparent dismissal. James Bachman’s performance, helped by his ridiculous get-up, is fuelled by the notion that Kenny is a child too, albiet at 7 foot tall big round furry one. You can’t help but feel for him, as he is slowly pushed aside for a ‘new model’.
Ultimately, shorts like this are often a mixed bag – some work, and some don’t, and thankfully, Monsters And Rabbits is one that does. The mixture of a very realistic looking world and moments of pure fantasy is an utterly convincing one, and the film never outstays its welcome. In some ways, it reminds me of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine – both in its portrayal of an outsider finding first love at the cost of the conventions of his lifestyle, and also in the visual scope of the picture on such a small budget.
Lianos’ eye is one with a firm grip on the conventions of film, but she is nevertheless willing to play with them, as the film’s beautifully shot ending proves – though naturally, we won’t spoil that one for you here. Seeing as Monsters And Rabbits still does the rounds at film festivals, and is available to buy in HD on iTunes for a mere £1.79, you’d be mad not to take a look at this short, but sweet piece. It’s been a hit at various festivals worldwide, even winning Prix du Jury at Festival Du Cinema Franco Du Touquet in France, and it’s really not hard to see why: Monsters And Rabbits is a sumptuous looking film with a heart of gold, and it remains a pure treat from start to finish.