Monday, 29 June 2015

the imp of the perverse

benjamin cook is a filmmaker, journalist and youtuber whom the observer named the 'official chronicler of britain's youtube generation' because of a documentary series he made called becoming youtube. that’s how i came across his work initially, so when i saw he’d made the move into narrative filmmaking i was intrigued.

the imp of the perverse is a short film based on edgar allan poe’s essay about the impulse to do the most wrong thing in any given situation. poe’s essay cleverly morphs into fiction when the narrator confesses to a murder (sorry, should have added a spoiler warning ... actually, it was published in 1850 so if you haven't read it by now you probably weren't going to). cook’s retelling of the story centres around 18-year-old dan who has somehow trapped the physical form of the imp of the title in his wardrobe. unsure what to do next he invites his friends jake and myles over to form a plan.

in many ways, cook’s film follows the same structure as poe’s work, explaining the concept of the imp of the perverse through flashback, narration and dan’s discussions with his friends before finally tackling the imp itself. while poe’s imp was more of a metaphor, dan releasing imp from the wardrobe becomes the equivalent of poe’s narrator confessing his crime. the part of the story that’s missing is the ‘murder’, i.e. the twist that the imp has already made our protagonist do something wrong and the imp’s last act of persuasion is to convince him to confess. without that twist the story seems to fall a little flat.

however, the imp of the perverse is still well worth watching. there is an energy and creativity in the filmmaking that’s really fresh and invigorating, and the fourteen-minute running time really flies by as a result. the visual flair and use of flashback, inserts and narration is reminiscent of danny boyle’s early work or, dare I say it, edgar wright except it’s more polished and slicker than anything those filmmakers did at the outset of their careers. despite not really adding anything to the narrative the animation is a nice touch as well.

what really makes it work are the three main characters, a combination of the writing, direction and the performances of the three actors. i know people like dan and his friends, and I don’t think I’ve ever them portrayed on film so effectively. they’re not only likable, but cook really makes them feel like rounded characters with stuff going on outside the story of the film. i’d happily watch a whole series or a feature with them at the centre and that's where this short really succeeds for me.

thinking about the characters and how well they’re portrayed, i wonder if maybe there is a bigger point here that i missed in my earlier assessment of the narrative. poe’s story was about murder, perhaps the ultimate perversion. cook references suicide and pushing people in front of trains but the perversion described in the most detail is a food fight at a birthday party. is that a comment on the banality of our society? is the lack of a serious transgression on dan’s part a suggestion that our perversions have become sanitised? or is the film saying the opposite, that nothing changes when the imp is let out of the wardrobe, because we’ve already devolved into a society that acts on all its perversions and if we try to go back to a more repressed era then we end up trapped in our rooms not daring to leave, like dan is in this film.

maybe I’m reading too much into it. it’s a really good film, you should watch it. oh look, here it is -

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