Writer: Sam Casserly
Producer: Sam Casserly
Cast: Nick Hayles, Rachel Laboucarie, Stephen Sheridan
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener
The Girl with Two Masks is an interesting film. It will not be to everyone’s taste, and it’s not without its problems, but I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it for what it was.
The premise couldn’t be more British if it tried: a national pub chain is trying to take over independent boozers. Young Mike Parker (Nick Hayles, who also starred in director Sam Casserly’s 2012 steampunk short To Kill a Princess) is on the Acquisitions Team, led by sweaty, balding, misogynist dinosaur Harry Ashley (a blistering performance from Stephen Sheridan, who was in Casserly’s short Red Wedding and a Will Young video!). Given one last chance, Mike is despatched to The Girl with Two Masks, instructed to persuade the owner to join the chain or else.
That owner is straight-talking, tee-total, vegan tough cookie Dexi (Rachel Laboucarie: Frank Slasher, Ponder’s End), a fascinatingly complex and contradictory character – and not just because she runs a pub but doesn’t drink. Though Dexi comes across as a solid, practical woman, Laboucarie’s deceptively subtle performance gives us clues that all is not well or right here.
Gradually we find out a little more about the pub’s unique name, which commemorates an incident centuries ago in the village when a travelling circus performer was accused of witchcraft and tortured. Somehow the girl’s influence lingers in the drinking establishment which bears her name and it becomes clear (well, clear-ish) that Dexi has some kind of unwelcome connection with the girl’s spirit. Nothing supernatural or disturbing happens until quite late in the day, but the build-up is steady throughout the film which kept my attention the way that so many other films haven’t.
But don’t come here looking for blood. This is a talkie, thinky, character-led film, the half-dozen-strong cast being bolstered by Roxi Gregory (The Séance, Dead Love, To Kill a Princess) and Lauren Mills in small roles plus Sian Denereaz as Mike’s Aunt Mary, with whom he lives and who runs an escort agency from her home. The only other credits are assistant director Jenny Pearman and three credited composers: Marilyn Bordier, Keven MacLeod and Laurie Anderson. (Presumably not the Laurie Anderson…) The film was shot – for £300 over five separate days – in late 2014 with a cast and crew screening in April 2015.
This is a shame because, in my personal experience, a pub is about the easiest location to source apart from your own front room. As long as you shoot in the morning and are out by opening time, most pubs are more than happy to let you film there, in return for a credit. And nothing looks like the inside of a pub quite like a pub. Scenes on a railway station were shot at Bramley near Guildford and there’s at least two pubs in that village, The Jolly Farmer and The Wheatsheaf, plus plenty more in the surrounding area.
All of this distracts from the story though it doesn’t detract from the story, which is original enough and interesting enough to carry the film for its 73 minutes running time, bolstered by fine, sometimes very intense, performances from the small cast.
POV and TORN: A ShockYouMentary) is bloodier, tauter and – because it has a strong simple concept – less obtuse. It also has considerably more names in the credits!
Despite some curious production choices noted above, The Girl with Two Masks is a valiant attempt to do something different, which succeeds enough to make it worth a watch. It bodes well for future films from Sam Casserly.
MJS rating: B