Hide and seek…
Earnest in intent but shaky in delivery, Helen is a film whose execution just can’t live up to the strong ideas behind it. Intended as a thoughtful treatise on the ideas of identity and destiny, some wooden acting, clunky dialogue and ponderous direction channel it more towards the realm of faltering student experimenta.
When local girl Joy disappears on her way home from college, the police decide to stage a televised reconstruction of her final movements. Shy student Helen (Annie Townsend) is cast to play Joy and, as she gets to know more about the missing girl, realises what very different lives they lead. Whereas Helen has been in care most of her life, Joy has a loving family and boyfriend who have been left reeling by her disappearance. As Helen grows dangerously close to Joy’s loved ones, all in the name of research, she begins to question her own identity.
Lead actress Annie Townsend is solid in her first ever role, bringing a haunting vulnerability to Helen as she struggles to define herself against the backdrop of Joy’s borrowed life. It’s a shame, then, that she’s surrounded by a far less talented supporting cast, some who seem to be reading their lines from an off-camera cue sheet and some whose only previous acting experience was most likely the school nativity.
And writers/producers/directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, here making their feature debut, and hold audience interest – through long, awkward silences between characters, slow moving shots of rustling leaves and monotonic conversations that lead to nowhere. Not to mention the many farcical moments – including a laughable speech by a pilot-uniformed careers officer about ‘blue sky thinking’ – which detract the focus from the serious themes at the heart of the story. . It’s interesting to note that the film started life as a short feature called Joy; perhaps it simply should have stayed that way.
Yet there is undoubtedly some film-making talent at work in Helen, and some names that should be looked out for in the future. It’s just unfortunate that here they are buried under a landslide of inexperience and whining melodrama.
Stars Annie Townsend, Sandie Malia, Denis Jobling
Directors & Screenplay Joe Lawlor & Christine Molloy
Distributor New Wave Films Ltd
Running Time 1hr 19mins
Opens May 1 (at Appollo Piccadilly Circus, Curzon Soho and Key Cities)