Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Slight Complication

Director: Shane Davey
Writer: Shane Davey
Producer: Shane Davey
Cast: Alan Carrington, Lindsay Jones, Jevan Miell
Country: UK
Year of release: 1998
Reviewed from: screener VHS

Back in 1998, you couldn’t even buy DVDs in shops. The idea of simply making one on a computer and popping it in an envelope was not even dreamed of. In those days, when you sent out screeners and review copies, you sent them out on big, bulky VHS tapes.

And here’s one. This was sent to Total Film back in February 1998. It came to me and it has been sitting on my shelf these eleven years gone by. I suppose I had better watch it.

When Total Film launched, I was working at SFX and both magazines were published by Future Publishing in Bath. The launch editor of Total Film was Matt Bielby, who had been launch editor of SFX (and hence my boss when I started at the company). As there was an obvious overlap between the two mags, I was part of the various discussions around the new title.

I had been writing lots of news stories in SFX about little indie films and I suggested something similar to Matt. I think it started in issue 2 - a regular short column called 'Independents Day' which gave a mention to whatever stuff we were sent. It ran for a few issues but then the Total Film team decided to write it themselves. I honestly don’t know whether Slight Complication was featured in the mag. It may have fallen between the cracks when my little column was wrenched away from me to save the company a few quid a month. I don’t recall seeing the movie before but that was a world away and a lifetime ago.

Slight Complication is a 55-minute film about two brothers whose profession is disposing of dead bodies. Except that today the body they are asked to collect isn’t dead. She turns out to be the wife of a corrupt senior politician. The plot centres around the brothers trying to cover their tracks and find out what happened to the hospitalised victim although this all seems somewhat redundant since all they did was ‘find’ her so they don’t really have many tracks to cover.

What is more interesting than the plot is simply the short-term historical curiosity of a production like this, dating from a time when the only digital thing on a film set would be the director’s watch. This was the a dark time for independent low-budget cinema, the early excitement of home video having given way to an ennui of stifled ambition as the equipment proved inadequate for anything more than backyard film-making.

The image here is flat, the sound all over the place, the lighting inconsistent, the editing crude. The acting is also, incidentally, very bad - which raises the possibility that the boom in quality indie productions may have had a beneficial effect on the lower reaches of the acting profession, giving the debutantes and ingenues unprecedented opportunities to work on well-produced, well-directed films.

Eleven years on, the state of British low-budget indie production is unrecognisable. Where, in 1998, film-makers like Shane Davey were fighting against their equipment (in both production and post-production), trying to wrench some degree of quality from basic, simplistic and often manifestly unsuitable technology - now, the opposite is true. The technology has overtaken the average film-maker so that now the problem lies most often with directors whose grasp exceeds their reach. Freely available shooting and desktop editing facilities of which neither Shane Davey nor anyone else could even dream in the late 1990s leave audiences and critics distinguishing between good and bad film-makers by their work - which is as it should be - rather than by trying to see past their work and make an educated guess about the latent talent hidden behind the technological restrictions.

According to a letter from Shane Davey, still enclosed with the tape like some sort of time capsule, Slight Complication “was shot over the last week of September 1997, filming lasted a total of seven days, at thirteen locations, with a cast of eleven speaking roles, using an entirely inexperienced crew, incorporating day and night shoots and completed for just under £4,000 ... fully edited and packaged.” Davey himself left school with no qualifications, served seven and a half years in the Royal Navy, then decided he wanted to make films so, with an amateur cast and crew, a budget of four grand, no training and equipment which we would now consider absurdly primitive, he made Slight Complication.

If somebody sent me a film like this today, I would be kind but have to admit that it’s rubbish. Jesus, the acting. I thought the nurse was wooden until the doctor appeared, giving possibly the worst performance I have seen in any film I have ever reviewed for this site. The technical and, to a lesser extent, artistic value of the film is, ah, limited. It also features some of the most absurdly inappropriate soundtrack songs I have ever heard.

The central plot doesn’t make a whole heap of sense, to be honest, resting as it does on the idea of a two-stage poison. Part A is added to the politico’s wife’s baked potato by a servant in the employ of her rotten husband. Part B is gaseous, permeating the car in which said servant drives the wife into town, he being unaffected because he hasn’t ingested Part A. But the whole scheme is foiled when the wife unexpectedly winds down the window to try and get rid of the foul-smelling substance seeping in through the air vent. As murder plans go, it’s not up there with the best.

But this was the past and it’s like another country. I should judge Shane Davey’s film not on an absolute scale but in terms of how well he achieved what he set out to do with what he had available. And in that respect, criticising this film is like criticising Louis Bleriot for only flying 22 miles. Actually getting the thing made, actually filming a (reasonably) coherent storyline, actually delineating a number of characters, actually editing and mixing the sound, actually producing a screener that could be sent to magazines - that’s an achievement.

So... whatever happened to Shane Davey? Where is he now? Well, a quick google reveals that he is working as a director, so good for him. He has a website at where he works with or employs a bunch of other young film-makers. Davey has a load of pop videos and adverts on there. He seems to be doing all right.

The IMDB lists eight shorts directed by Davey between 2000 and 2006 including mermaid comedy Waterbaby and From the Bottom Up, a documentary featuring Stephen Fry and Stockard Channing. He is also credited with executive producing a couple of shorts directed by James Keaton in 2007/8. But no mention of Slight Complication, which has been forgotten until now. I am happy to provide documentary evidence of the film’s existence, restoring it to the pantheon, as it were. Quite what Shane Davey will think when he comes across this review next time he googles his name remains to be seen.

MJS rating: B

[In fact, Shane  was busy making- and subsequently sent me a copy of - The Horror of the Dolls. - MJS]

Review originally posted 25th October 2009

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