Oliver Frampton’s directorial debut might share a few notes with The Shining but distinguishes itself thanks to the urban decay that frames this supernatural horror…
Oliver Frampton’s directorial debut The Forgotten, which he co-wrote with James Hall, tells the story of a young boy forced to live with his father in an abandoned housing block destined for demolition. Paint cracking and peeling off the walls, their squat is lit only by electric lanterns as the security grills adorning the windows and doors mask the daylight sun. It’s a squalid existence; a backdrop of urban decay clawing at this boyhood tale where roots are firmly set in historical tragedy.
If Frampton gets one thing right, it’s atmosphere. Grey skies cool an inner-city landscape riddled with concrete and a sense of waste. Tommy (Clem Tibber), the 14-year-old at the centre of this supernatural drama, is similarly decaying. His mother has mysteriously abandoned him, his ambitionless father has turned to petty crime, the teenager’s days are nothing more than time-watching excursions awaiting another wakeful night as knocks and noises emanate from the abandoned apartment next door.
Certainly, the film boasts notes of The Shining but it lacks Stanley Kubrick’s nuanced, detailed frame. As much as Frampton’s location is an ideal backdrop for this unsettling story, he doesn’t always make full use of the paint-cracked walls, urban desolation and concrete jungle. It’s perhaps indicative of the film’s limited budget but Frampton’s framing is at times too constrained, lacking the cinematic energy of the Kubrick film that clearly has an influence upon him.
He has no trouble maintaining our attention in close-up. The hand-to-mouth takeaway dinner by Duracell-powered electric lantern; sleep broken by distant screams; the companionship formed by Tommy and new friend Carmen over a “joint”. But the sparkle fades when Frampton’s sequences become more complicated. One seemingly important scene detailing creepy goings-on in the teenager’s bedroom is sapped of its effectiveness by the indistinct details of the director’s mise-en-scene. It’s a failed attempt at the horror film punchline that, while indicated with the heavy-hand of a distorted musical fart, has neither the set-up or payoff to hit home.
It’s the same when it comes to the script. The Forgotten is far more enticing when keeping things simple. Tibber’s performance is a good example: straightforward, plain-faced, unrehearsed. He reminded me a bit of David Bradley as Billy Casper in Ken Loach’s Kes, not least in his unremarkable appearance but that sense of acting immaturity that lends to the authenticity of performance. It’s a shame the script couldn’t maintain a similar sense of simplicity. The final third treads too heavily on The Shining’s shoes, while the formation of several plot strands derail the more modest character drama initially established between father and son.
Ultimately though, The Forgotten is a stripped down British horror that definitely has merit. Director Frampton might not extract everything he can from the film’s inherently haunting locale but it nevertheless distinguishes this story from the gothic clichés of the genre. A few good scares will give thrill-seekers something to shout about even if the predictable plotting becomes tiresome when the film begins to make its closing statements.