The Owners 2020 Film Review

Garjen

Active Member
Just before I publish my latest review on my site I thought I would ping it on here for you all to see.

Intro…..

I grew up watching Sylvester McCoy as Dr Who. That quirky personality instilled into my impressionable mind, and just like the rest of the population, I have been captivated by Game of Thrones. So, when skimming through titles on Cinema Paradiso, I was intrigued to discover ‘The Owners’ A film starting both Sylvester McCoy and Maisie Williams, I popped it on my rental list and have recently watched it….

The Owners is a psychological thriller released in 2020. Directed and co-written by first time French Director Julius Berg with Mathieu Gompel co-writing, and support from Geoff Cox. Starring Sylvester McCoy, Rita Tushingham, Maisie Williams, Jake Curran, Andrew Ellis, Ian Kenny, Stacha Hicks.

It’s sometime in the 1990’s and the film opens with a scruffy looking red Nissan Micra sitting in a field observing a large country house. In the car are 3 lads Gaz, Jake Curran Terry (Andrew Ellis and Nathen. (Ian Kenny)

The house belongs Dr Huggins (Sylvester McCoy), and his wife Ellen, (Rita Tushingham) an elderly couple well known to the village. Having debts that need to be paid, Gaz has led the trio into a robbery with the aim of getting money out of a safe that’s hidden somewhere within the property (that’s what safes are always used for isn’t it?) Just as the friends are staking out the house, Mary (Maisie Williams) turns up on a bicycle seemingly annoyed that her deadbeat boyfriend had taken the car. Mary is told to stay in the car, while the lads enter the country pad. After searching and ransacking the house, the lads finally locate a small safe in a downstairs cellar/garage. Not able to crack the safe, the boys decide to wait for the owners to come back and obtain the code. Soon the owners return and what started as a simple robbery escalates to violent kidnapping and attempted torture, but is all as it seems?...



The script,

This is writer/director Julius Berg first film (having filmed commercials previously). In his first year at university Berg rented a room from an old lady. This lady was very strange, making statements like “I haven’t heard you urinate this morning, is all, ok?” Whilst this may have been quite intrusive behaviour, it was a personality trait that stuck in Berg’s mind. Fast forward a few years later and a friend of Berg asked him to read a French graphic novel titled ‘Une nuit de pleine lune’
T
he translated synopsis reads very similar to the plot of The Owners:

Karim dreams of returning to live in Morocco one day, in a villa in the sun, by the sea. But for that, he would need to touch the jackpot. With a team that is not really professional, he decides to attack the small fortune of a private couple... It is therefore five nervous and ill-prepared young people who one evening enter the Boisseau house, an elderly couple living in an isolated house in open countryside. The idea is to wait for the couple to return and scare them enough to reveal the code to their vault. Anyone would eventually give in! Except that Boisseau is not just anyone…

Berg has swapped a gang of Moroccan lads for 3 English youths, and Boisseau for an unspecified area of UK countryside. Watching The Owners it’s clear that his experience with the weird older lady was on his mind when he co-adapted the novel.

Berg’s script is most distinctly a script of thirds. As you would expect from a film of this type, the first third of the film is spent introducing us to the characters and the plot. Berg is happy using this time to add layer upon layer of set up. We get to understand the character backgrounds, their motivations and how they are all linked. I like the way that he has given distinct personalities to the characters. Its clear that Nathen is not comfortable with what he’s got himself into, Gaz is a typical thug, with violence running through his veins and Terry the softie of the group, easily led and just going along with the others. Berg is not afraid to give characters certain vulnerabilities to make an emotional connection with the viewer. Mary is pregnant, Mrs Huggins has some form of dementia and has hints of being very odd, Dr Huggins is very much in love with his wife and has a very timid personality that is obviously masking something. Hints of a subplot start to drive the whole film forward.

All of this exposition means one thing, it’s a patient slow build to the second act, and as a viewer you could be forgiven for checking your watch but when the owners arrive the pace picks up slightly. Amongst attempted torture scenes, Berg introduces more hints of something being unusual about the Huggins. It’s all designed to make you feel a little uneasy and it works.

In the second act Bergs’s patient style remains while he attempts to brew up more tension, (yes there is a scene with tea, see what I did there… ‘’Brew’’ …get it?). The doctor’s odd behaviour becomes more extreme, and his wife starts displaying episodes of dementia. It’s in the second act that Berg lets the story breathe a little. As we see more of the DR we get to see what’s really going on.

Bergs third act thrusts upon the screen with an interesting visual choice (more on that later) . The pace is ramped up. In much the same way ‘From Dusk To Dawn’ flips from a crime caper to vampire flick, Berg flips the film from home invasion gone wrong, to a horror survival flick. Unfortunately, though it’s at this point that Berg loses a sense of style and relies on the tried and tested formula of horror that saturates films of this type. Key characters make stupid decisions that places them in more peril, the danger is obvious to the viewer and yet the people on screen are oblivious. Berg does do some good things though, he ensures that plot points get tied up and a the underlying sub-plot gets exposed. However, it’s all a little underwhelming. The saving grace is the final scene with the Doctor and his Wife, it hints at a much wider story that may be worth the director going back and exploring.



Cast………

Casting director Dan Hubbard is onboard to bring Berg’s characters to life, and he’s played a blinder;
pulling together a small cast that are super enthusiastic for the project. Perfectly blending experienced actors with some younger talent. The three lads that play the robbers seem suited to their on-screen personalities, with Jake Curran standing out with his intensity and thuggish behaviour.

Here are my thoughts on the rest of the cast..





Sylvester McCoy

There is a certain irony that is not lost on me of casting an Icon of Dr Who as an on-screen village Doctor and It’s great to see McCoy onscreen again. He seems to be relishing playing Dr.Huggins. McCoy has built a career on his quirky personality and it’s in full force in this film. When we first see the doctor he has been kidnapped and tied up, McCoy is able to play the doctor as both timid and nervous. He has a certain kindness about him, whilst his eyes suggest something darker. As the film progresses, he is able to convey how his love for his wife is driving his perverse behaviour which gets more intense by the minute. It reminds me of the spiral to madness that Jack Nicholson goes through during The Shining, (although with a different level of intensity). McCoy’s energy just gets weirder and it’s a brilliant performance from someone who I consider to be more of a comedic actor. I very much enjoyed watching Mccoy explore such an evil character.



Rita Tushingham

Famous for her turn in 1956’s Doctor Zhivago, Tushingham joins the cast of The Owners as Dr Higgins’ wife ‘Ellen’, a woman who is sadly experiencing signs of Alzheimers, mixed with moments of clarity. As someone who has seen first-hand how Alzheimers can play havoc with someone’s personality, I think Tushingham nails her performance. One moment she could be nursing Terry in a very motherly way, whilst giving him an injection of dubious intent, and a split second later the Alzheimer’s makes her turn on Mary. Tushingam makes the transition seamlessly, it is intense and catches the characters completely off guard. This means that Tushingham is able to make her character go to darker places than Mccoy. It is a captivating performance for an actress not known for horrors.



Maisie Williams

When Julius Berg met with Dan Hubbard, to discuss casting, Hubbard had only one name for the lead character Mary and that was Maisie Williams. It was an instant yes from Berg. Likewise, it’s easy to see why Williams signed on. Films of this genre can be accused of having weak female characters, but The Owners attempts to break the mould. Williams’s character Mary goes from not having a major part to play in the film at the beginning, through to being very much the central character by the end, and she gives one hell of a fight. Unfortunately, though, Berg seems to have missed out giving any depth to Williams’s character. We learn very little about her and she is forced to spend the last part of the film running and screaming, so in that regard Berg does not push the genre forward. That said Williams does well with what she is given to do, despite the characters limitations. If you have ever seen Williams play Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, then you will be very familiar with how she portrays the character of Mary. For me I would have liked to see Williams stretch herself a little further with the characterisation.



Sound

Composers Paul Frazer & Vincent Welch have worked together to compose the score for The Owners. The pair have created a typical thriller / horror score, you know the type that builds up the music pace and volume to a crescendo when something mildly entertaining is about to happen, (the type found frequently on horror trailers) . The pair use this approach to great effect within the film’s 15 min long climax Overall the score is standard horror film generic sound that works well enough but is nothing new or memorable.

The Blu-ray is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio that is focused on the front speakers with the rears used sporadically to enhance noises and is in full force on the last 15 min climax. Overall, it’s a clear mix that does nothing wrong, so viewers should have no problem understanding the dialogue etc.

Visual Effects

For his directorial debut, Julius Berg has opted for classic prosthetic effects and has put together a superb effects team. The Owners isn’t a Hollywood mega budget production, so Berg and his team have not been able to create a full-on gore fest, instead they have opted for lower key shocks, such as a finger being pulled off, or an incredibly specific, localised head injury. The various injuries and fatalities look very visceral. The fact that The Owners was filmed in only 23 days is testament to the team’s hard work.

Video Quality

Choosing to translate the graphic novel to the big screen seems to have been a great choice to make. It’s a one location movie, taking place within the house location for the whole 93 mins. This proves to be very cinematic. Cinematographer David Ungaro decided to use a single camera to focus on subjects. As the budget for the film wasn’t massive, this also helped Editor Marc Boucrot work his magic, as less shots were filmed. Ungaro is also able to handle the inside shots well, the low light situations not effecting his one camera operation.

Berg and Ungaro make an interesting choice for the films final act. As the film draws to its climax, Berg draws the single camera in further and narrows the cinemascope aspect ratio to a 4:3 format. The transition narrows your eyes to those trapped in the situation. Attempting to convey the claustrophobia and sense of entrapment experienced by the one character trying to escape. The transition happens without warning, and I thought about restarting my devices until it dawned on me it’s an intentional choice. It’s a great experiment at style, but up to that point the film was working well, and I don’t think the aspect change achieves its intent. What Berg and Ungaro fail to understand is that the audience for this film are likely to be watching on small screens, not a massive cinema screen. So rather than drawing the audience in, I fear this format transition is doing the opposite.



Overall thoughts

The Owners provides an alternative take on the home invasion genre, It’s not quite a full on horror with Berg attempting to focus on the psychological thriller side of things. This low budget Anglo- French film shows that Berg is an interesting film maker but It’s hard to say from just one film if Berg has a specific cinematic style. It seems to be both an exercise and experimentation, and the culmination of several years work on one idea. Some viewers used to major franchise Horror films may find the pacing very slow, and on a re-watch I certainly felt that was the case. The films ‘Big Reveal’ finale is obvious from the second act it’s not as surprising as it could be and it’s a shame that it lacks the impact Berg clearly intended The saving grace of the film is is the cast choice. They all make the characters far more interesting than they should be, who doesn’t want to see more evil Mccoy?
 

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