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October 2010

Diary Of A Bad Lad

cast: Jonathan Williams, Joe O'Byrne, Paul Birtwhistle, and Donna Henry

director: Michael Booth

90 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
Pleased Sheep DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 6/10
review by Mark West

Diary Of A Bad Lad

A mockumentary that cleverly blurs the lines between fact and fiction, this follows frustrated filmmaker/ suspended college lecturer Barry Lick (Jonathan Williams, who also wrote and produced the film) as he attempts to make a film about local crime lord Ray Topham (Tom Miller). Assisted along the way by Topham's right hand man Tommy Morghen (Joe O'Byrne), who introduces the film and is listed as executive producer and ex-porn actress and cocaine dealer Joanne Miller (Donna Henry), Lick is quickly out of his depth. Exploited by those he trusted, let down by the inexperience of his student crew and his own shortcomings, things get very dark, very quickly.

This was a real surprise to me. Very low-budget, it starts off looking like someone's old home movies and although the picture quality is variable throughout, the film quickly finds its feet. At first, Lick seems in control and aware, but as time goes by, we learn his failings - suspended from the college he works at for his teaching methods, pushing his crew to do things against their will, allowing his drive to make the film override his basic human morality - and as everything goes to hell around him, so he crumples. Even at the end, when it's obvious that something is very, very wrong (no spoilers here, you need to see it), he can't resist getting that last close-up and death rattle.

Once you accept the premise that this is an amateur 'documentary', things click into place quickly - the acting is generally good, the locations used (around Blackburn) help to ground the film further into reality with certain sequences (especially the revenge on Joanne), working brilliantly on the conceit that the camera operator is either 'out of it' or not entirely sure what's going on. Having said that, the amateur edge is also the film's undoing. The production uses three cameras - one is DV and very clear, the other is okay, and the final one almost seems like a VHS unit and, unfortunately, most of the night-time sequences are shot on the latter.

What gives the film its power, however, is our inability - like Lick - to turn away. A confrontation with a drug dealer in Joanne's house seems to go on forever, as the dealer and Birty (Paul Birtwhistle) argue and, just when I was about to hit the fast-forward button, it becomes something much grimmer and darker indeed and by Lick's actions, you realise he's crossed the line. Nothing will be sacred anymore and that's highlighted when the crew follow Tommy out on a 'meeting' with a client who's fallen behind on his payments.

Simon and Leanne Huxley (James Foster, in a very brave performance and the equally courageous Carolyn Mason) are persuaded that one way to erase their debts is to make their own porn film. They agree, listen to the list of required positions and then their tape is presented as part of the film. At first, it's quite amusing and light-hearted, (an attempt at anal sex plays as homage to A Clockwork Orange, complete with speeded-up film and Beethoven) but the viewer quickly becomes complicit in their degradation and it becomes very uncomfortable.

Equally uncomfortable is the revenge meted out on Joanne, which Barry films and shows her the next day without a speck of remorse. The uncomfortable feeling increases, right through to the end and there are some almost throwaway moments - like Roxy (Roxanne Gregory) in the sauna - that seem much worse after you've watched the film.

There were several extras on my screener copy, which show just how much a labour of love this was for some of the production team. Biogs are about the main film crew, but they're fictitious, further extending the sleight-of-hand of the film. A short, It's A Documentary, talks about truth in documentaries and plays well, whilst Birty's video diaries (all five of them) are all in character. As much fun as all of these are, it would have been nice to have a real behind-the-scenes featurette, too; but that's a small gripe.

So, in conclusion..? Diary Of A Bad Lad is a low-budget British film, well constructed and thought out, with some solid performances and I, for one, thoroughly recommend it.



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