Film: The drugs don't work

The Acid House (15) Director: Paul Mcguigan Starring: Ewen Bremner, Martin Clunes, Kevin Mckidd 112 Mins

Well, it's one way to ring in the new year. Paul McGuigan's triptych of films adapted from stories by Irvine Welsh arrive like gatecrashers at a hogmanay do, the sort whose eye you'd rather not catch: raucous, tattooed, beerybreathed, radge (mad, in the local vernacular), though not without a certain profane vitality and wit. McGuigan has the unenviable task of following Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's high-profile adaptation of Welsh's first book, an instant cult hit whose inventiveness still reverberates through British cinema. Even the orange-and-black livery of that film's promotional poster bears an unforgettable iconographic integrity.

Confronted with largely the same milieu - the strugglers and stragglers of drab, lowlife Edinburgh - McGuigan has taken a sensible decision not to show off. Nothing in The Acid House matches the arresting visual cadenza of Ewan McGregor taking a nosedive into a toilet bowl, yet there is a measure of Trainspotting's deranged black comedy, scabrous banter and sudden violence. Regarding the last of these, it's well nigh impossible to watch the volcanic unpleasantness of Larry (Gary McCormack) raging through the middle story, "A Soft Touch", and not be reminded of the bantam aggression of Robert Carlyle's Begbie from the earlier film. It's the most realistic segment of the trio, relating the trials of Johnny (Kevin McKidd), left to mind his infant daughter while his sluttish wife Catriona (Michelle Gomez) moves upstairs to service the noisy lust of his peroxide- yob neighbour, Larry. Having had his video and television appropriated by the rutting couple, the hapless cuckold suffers the final indignity of seeing a hole poked through his ceiling, swiftly followed by Larry leading an extension cable to a plug point in his living room: now he's stealing his electricity.

This anecdote of domestic rupture vigorously underlines the basic pessimism of Welsh's writing in that it portrays compassion as a weakness. Johnny learns nothing from his humiliation; his change of heart at the story's end is not humane, just a reaffirmation that he will forever be a "soft touch". Not like Boab (Stephen McCole), subject of the first story, "The Granton Star Cause"; he, too, endures one mortification after another - dropped from the football team, dumped by his girlfriend, fired from his job and booted from the familial hearth by his parents - but, instead of crumpling under adversity, an encounter with "God" in a pub alters his whole perspective. "Ah'm gaunny make ye look like the dirty, lazy pest thit ye are," God tells him, and promptly turns Boab into a fly. What follows is Metamorphosis crossed with a sick revenge fantasy: it feels characteristic of Welsh's sardonic humour that Boab discovers how "eating shit" - his metaphorical lot as a human - can be turned to physical advantage as an insect.

McGuigan uses harsh colour and distorting angles to convey the antic and somewhat feral turn of Welsh's imagination, though certain passages that fly off the page fail to tweak the funny bone in the same way on screen. When Boab is caught vandalising a phone-box, for instance, he is hauled into the cells and given a savage doing over by a police sergeant. The reason? The policeman is a British Telecom shareholder, as he subsequently explains to Boab: "Ye ken, it jist goes tae show ye the effectiveness ay they privatisation policies. Ah would nivir huv reacted like that if ye had smashed up a phone-box when they were nationalised." The sudden change of register from demotic to officialese which is effected so wittily in prose seems cumbersome (and not very amusing) in the film.

Welsh's sentences aren't exactly resistant to screen translation; it's just that their music goes missing. This is further evidenced in the concluding story, another grotesque fantasia of displacement in which a football hooligan named Coco (played with maniacal abandon by Ewen Bremner) has a supercharged acid trip on the night of a violent electrical storm and winds up trapped in the body of an infant newly born to a middle-class couple (Jemma Redgrave and Martin Clunes). Coco lies helpless in a hospital bed, his responses apparently regressing to the level of a new-born baby. Again, Welsh's comedy of language - a bairn who talks in the broken glass accent of a Hibs supporter - is rendered too explicitly as a body-swap nightmare, with a Chucky doll performing the role of demon baby. It encapsulates the problem which a book like The Acid House presents to the filmmaker. While Paul McGuigan's adaptation thrums with a sort of gleeful disgust, it feels oddly compromised, and says little about the druggy squalor of Edinburgh's low-rent hinterland that Trainspotting hasn't already covered.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?