There's something gratifyingly unusual about being marshalled out on to a London roof terrace by surly, burly men with walkie-talkies, collecting binoculars and headphones (and, for the cautious, cagoule) on the way and settling down to watch a play unfold in the windows of an office block across the road. How bizarre! How artfully creepy! But after the initial excitement dies down, it quickly becomes apparent that Contains Violence is, against all the odds, really quite boring.
The idea is are we spying on a disillusioned office worker, his David Brent-esque colleague (without the laughs) and their desirable female boss. And thanks to the headphones we hear everything as if we are in the room with them – the tap tap tap of a keyboard, the swoosh of an aerosol, the plink-plink fizz of an aspirin and sometimes even their pounding heartbeat.
In time, their eerily amplified mundane actions give way to a sadomasochistic orgy of violence, which we are forced to witness.
David Rosenberg, the writer and director, has form with this kind of Hitchcockian drama. With his company Shunt, he had audiences witness a Rear Window-style murder unfolding in a fake attic window underneath London Bridge station. This time round, the experience is heightened by the complete isolation of the viewer and by a surprising use of real city spaces.
But all this stylish innovation is worth little when there is nothing to get one's teeth into content-wise. The narrator's sub-surreal ramblings and the lack of engaging dialogue make it hard to bother. It's a missed opportunity and more than once I found myself scanning the street below for more interesting real-life dramas.
The promised violence is gorily impressive with blood smearing the windows and an inventive use of a stapler. But of course, that's missing the point – if there is one. When it's over, we are supposed to feel revulsion for our voyeuristic complicity. Michael Haneke is giving the same lecture in the cinema with Funny Games. There, accompanied by those old dramatic chestnuts, convincing characters and gripping plot, it's mildly irritating. Here, when the writing and characterisation fall significantly below par, it's actively annoying.
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