FILM REVIEWS / Serial killing by numbers: Sheila Johnston on the sensation-seeking Beyond Bedlam

Sheila Johnston
Thursday 21 April 1994 23:02
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I have seen the future of the British film industry and it looks dim.

Vadim Jean directed last year's raffish Jewish comedy Leon the Pig Farmer. This, his first film, made on a shoestring and with deferred payments for cast and crew, was one of last year's more pleasant surprises, earning Jean a handful of Best Newcomer awards. For Beyond Bedlam, his second film, he has chosen a straight-arrow horror flick to iron out the memory of Leon's quirks: the by-numbers plot concerns a sadistic serial killer incarcerated in a mental institution who succeeds in invading the mind of a psychiatrist, continuing his murders by proxy.

There's nothing wrong with genre film-making, of course, unless it's a matter of desperately apeing Hollywood. Beyond Bedlam has a second- hand feel, but at least, unlike Young Americans or some of the Hellraiser movies, it doesn't try to pass for American. It's set close to Leon's North London stamping ground in Friern Barnet, and if it sometimes looks too cosy for a supernatural chiller (you keep expecting the protagonists to pop off to the mock- Tudor pub for a half of lager and scampi in the basket), this cosiness can also, as the Ealing and Hammer veterans well knew, add effectively to a film's menace.

And Jean doesn't altogether disappoint with this second offering - not as a director. Beyond Bedlam is handsomely mounted, with a flair for framing, camera movement and expressionist lighting (if a bit heavy on the blue gels towards the end). The droll fantasy sequences, in which the killer's victims return from the dead to indulge in neurotic-obsessive hauntings, are well-handled (these were one of the strengths of Leon the Pig Farmer too), as is the moody opening montage of people in a smart apartment block stirring uneasily in their sleep.

The problems begin when they wake up. The film is decorated with two particularly poor central performances from Elizabeth Hurley as the shrink and Craig Fairbrass as a cop who befriends her (this may not entirely be the actors' fault: the performances were also patchy in Leon, which had a much more distinguished cast).

No complaints about Keith Allen as the bullet-headed serial killer; he has perfected the Hannibal Lecter manic basilisk stare and the measured delivery. But the character will never take his place alongside Norman Bates in the pantheon of film psychos; he's a thin, underwritten creation without a spikiness to make him stick in the craw. The script, in fact - and here Jean, a co-writer, is guilty as charged - is studded with pure lead: 'It was a decision and it was the wrong decision; I have to live with that every day' is a line that would disgrace a fifth-rate TV cop show.

The film-makers have received an unexpected short-term publicity boost: Beyond Bedlam was given an '18' rating for video by the British Board of Film Classification last week, only to have it promptly rescinded in the fall-out from the Criminal Justice Bill. But the long- term consequences could be fearsome, as film-makers try to launch productions without the financial safety net of a video sale. Hard to know what's worse, the economic forecast, or the fact that such a puny film should be in the eye of this fracas.

Visions of Light, a feature-length documentary about film cinematography, fields an impressive cavalcade of leading directors of photography talking entertainingly about their craft. Its brief, to trace the entire history of the art, means that the treatment is a shade rushed and superficial: an efficient study guide rather than a fresh insight. But it's an excellent introduction to the neglected magic of the cameraman, bolstered (at the Everyman) by a revolving supporting feature chosen from the examples discussed in the film.

(Photograph omitted)

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