Amaryllis review – the oddest split-screen silent-movie musical you’ll ever see

Thomas Lawes plays a synth score on screen as a teen drama plays out above – a bold experiment that doesn’t fully work

Director Thomas Lawes is the proverbial one-man band on this modern silent movie. He has not only written, filmed, edited and composed the music, but is also visible playing the keyboards, guitars and drums of the synthwave score in split screen underneath the action, like a funky sign-language interpreter. It’s a kitsch formal quirk that initially adds a kind of distancing effect to this simple urban fable, but it quickly becomes invisible (presumably less so in screenings with live accompaniment).

Ella McLoughlin plays Amaryllis, a sullen, beanie-hatted skater girl living with her alcoholic mum (Liz May Brice). After breaking into a warehouse where waifish drug dealer Roach (Adam El Hagar) is doing business, she manages to worm her way into running errands for him. Taking a cut, she aims to save enough to move out and, as she scrawls in animated diary snippets, “not have to see my stupid fucking bitch mother EVER AGAIN!” But as Roach takes to pulling up at her door in his flame-emblazoned camper van, Amaryllis begins to fall for the doe-eyed pusher.

Propelled by Lawes’ music, Amaryllis’s drug-running missions have a picaresque rush as she skates around town; the fresh-faced McLoughlin, with no dialogue to lean on, is expressive without turning the film into an extended charades session. But Lawes’ split-screen gimmick isn’t really innovative – apart from one moment when a rapper in the main action threatens to beat-box his way across the diegetic divide – and only adds a minor boost to a teen photostory with little to surprise. The romantic Cornish surfing interlude is particularly cheesy, and there are some clunky workarounds, like dialogue scrawled on bits of paper held up to windows. In the end this is a better advert for Lawes’s composing than his storytelling.

• Amaryllis is released in cinemas on 25 November.

Contributor

Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Pandora's Box review – intensely erotic silent-era classic
Louise Brooks is the last word in amoral cosmopolitan chic as the serial seducer Lulu in GW Pabst’s magnificent tale of lust, greed and violence

Peter Bradshaw

30, May, 2018 @4:00 PM

Article image
Napoleon review – silent-era epic more thrilling than ever
For its pure ambition, panache and passion, Abel Gance’s 1927 biographical masterpiece is a staggering acheivement

Peter Bradshaw

10, Nov, 2016 @9:45 PM

Article image
Shiraz: A Romance of India review – 90-year-old epic stands test of time
There is endless warmth, skill and ambition behind this semi-fictional silent story of the Taj Mahal’s romantic origins

Peter Bradshaw

01, Feb, 2018 @1:00 PM

Article image
Been So Long review – Michaela Coel tremendous in movie musical
Coel and Arinzé Kene are captivating as an unlikely couple who meet on a night out in Camden in this beguiling love story

Peter Bradshaw

14, Oct, 2018 @10:03 AM

Article image
The 50 best films of 2020 in the UK: the full list
It’s number one time, and it’s a picture from the beginning of the year that nothing else has quite eclipsed for wit, thrills and sheer watchability

Andrew Pulver

18, Dec, 2020 @8:09 AM

Article image
First Love review – brilliantly bizarre, ultra-violent yakuza caper
A terminally-ill boxer helps out a troubled sex worker in Takashi Miike’s strange and wildly energetic film – his 103rd

Peter Bradshaw

13, Feb, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Honest Thief review - Liam Neeson does Taken once more with feeling
Over a decade on from launching his action-movie persona, Neeson once again finds himself on the rampage, this time to save a nice little love story

Ellen E Jones

22, Oct, 2020 @7:00 AM

Article image
Casque d’Or review – Jacques Becker’s gripping tragic drama of Parisian lowlife
Simone Signoret stars in a dark tale of love in the belle époque underworld that is a unmissable classic with a pitilessly grim finale

Peter Bradshaw

24, Nov, 2022 @7:00 AM

Article image
Lies We Tell review – gangland romance lacks thrills despite its talented cast
Gabriel Byrne is drawn into the dark world of his ex-boss’s girlfriend in a leaden drama hampered by a cheesy score

Peter Bradshaw

02, Feb, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
The Lovebirds review – wacky Netflix murder-mystery romance
Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play a couple forced to run for their lives in Michael Showalter’s likably lewd screwball crime caper

Peter Bradshaw

20, May, 2020 @2:00 PM