Elfie Hopkins review (Blu-ray)

Elfie Hopkins (Jamie Winstone) lives in a quiet (too quiet?) rural village with her father and stepmother. Bored and sarcastic, she spends her days mooching around the local woods with best friend Dylan (Barnard) smoking spliffs and recording a running commentary on rural life in her dictaphone. Village life is shaken up by the arrival of the eccentric Gammon family. The Gammon’s run a bespoke travel agency, and regale the locals with tales of exotic travels. When locals start to disappear only for it to be revealed they have taken an extended overseas vacation arranged by the Gammons, Elfie smells a rat and decides to start snooping.

This is the latest film from the stable of prolific British producer Jonathan Sothcott, whose credits include the likes of Dead Cert, Stalker and the upcoming Strippers vs Werewolves. Sothcott has cheerfully plied his trade at the DTV schlock end of the market, but with this he has produced something a little bit different. In fact, in genre terms the film is quite hard to place. The opening credits suggest a Tim Burton-esque fantasy and initially it almost feels like a children’s film. However, as the film progresses, it becomes darker and more violent (it has been trimmed of six seconds to achieve a 15 certificate).

While the shifting tone in itself is not a problem, the film actually becomes less interesting as it goes on. The village in the woods setting, Elfie’s unhappy home life with a stepmother, and especially the performance of  Keyworth as the Gammons’ daughter (part Helena Bonham Carter, part Lolita Goth) suggest a modern reworking of fairy tale tropes. This would have made the film very current with Mirror Mirror in screens now, and Snow White and the Huntsman to come. However the fairy tale elements fall away quickly to be replaced by a Nancy Drew-a-like story of sleuthing. This isn’t really developed either as Elfie never seems to do any actual detecting, too often relying on her friend Dylan’s miraculous computer hacking abilities to gather important plot exposition. In the final reel the film decides to go for horror, but the change in gears is grating, and it comes far too late in the running time.

If is a real problem in this film it is that there is no sense of place. I have seen some synopsis say the film is set in Wales, but there is no real indication it is. Sure it was shot there, and Dylan has a Welsh accent, but no one else has. In fact accents are a massive problem in the film. Jaime Winstone sounds like Jamie Winstone, Mackintosh is doing some sort of West Country/Welsh borders thing, and Ray Winstone pops up (for one scene) with an accent so appalling I it touches on almost every county in England. Stuff like this is incredibly annoying, two characters who have both grown up in the same rural village aught to have accents that stay within the same county borders surely? It is also unclear how old Elfie and Dylan are supposed to be, again many reviews are calling the characters teenagers but production notes call Elfie 22. All of this leads to a narrative that is confusing when it shouldn’t be.

It’s clear that director Andrews and co-writer Barmania have this in mind as a possible franchise opener... Elfie Hopkins investigates, that kind of thing. However the character is too ill-defined to be memorable. There is a back story regarding her mother’s death when she was 12, that may or may not have been resolved in the film so vaguely is it explored. Jamie Winstone seems miscast, failing to bring any real likability to the character.

The film is also blighted by horrible digital photography. While Andrews can compose an interesting shot, the film has a monochrome look that does the production design no favours. Interior shots look particularly bad, having a fuzzy, diffused magnolia TV look with blown out highlights everywhere. The whole production comes off as cheap looking. In case you are wondering, I don’t have an axe to grind about digital cinematography. Look at the digital work done on underrated low-budget Brit horror Mum & Dad from a few years ago to see how good it can look.

There are glimmers of interest here. Director Andrews clearly has some talent and the beginnings of a visual style. Elfie Hopkins required more time in script development and less spent persuading well known actors like Mackintosh and Ray Winstone to take on tiny parts.10:06)

EXTRAS ★★½ Two deleted scenes (2:33); a making-of featurette (10:38); the theatrical trailer; and the short film Little Munchkin (10:06).

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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