The feature debut by Johnny Barrington – who came to prominence in 2012 with the darkly surreal and funny, BAFTA-nominated short Tumult – is a strong and confident bow from a director who consistently undercuts the tenets of social realism with hints of the magical and the dreamlike. With its Scottish locale (specifically, the Isle of Lewis) and gentle genre breaking, comparisons to filmmaker Bill Forsyth are probably unavoidable. But, in the case of Silent Roar – which opened this year’s “special edition” of the Edinburgh International Film Festival (see the news) – they are probably appropriate.
Dondo (Louis McCartney) is a teenager living in a small town and is still reeling from the death of his father – lost at sea – a year previously. Obsessed by surfing, Dondo spends much of his time on the waves, convinced that he’ll be able to find his dad. When a new pastor – played with wild-eyed charisma by Mark Lockyer – turns up, Dondo finds himself emboldened by promises of the Lord being able to return his father safely and begins to fall under the influence of the church. All the while, Dondo’s friend Sas (Ella Lily Hyland) begins to strengthen their friendship as she herself looks for meaning in thrall to her conservative parents and an unsure future. They both find themselves at a crossroads where things lost in the past and hope for the future must be reconciled.
The ostensibly serious story – dealing with a myriad of issues, amongst them small-town life, grief, belief, sexuality and hypocrisy – is consistently undercut with a wry sense of humor: an exploration of God’s genitals (trust me, it works in context) or the later appearance of the “Swiss Jesus” (who is also black and female) stop this film from becoming a dour affair. Indeed, while the movie presents us with the typical Scottish climate – all slate-grey skies and forbidding hills that are lushly green yet slightly foreboding – there’s also a sense of beauty and magic here. As the film races to its (rather overstuffed and overwrought) conclusion, and as Barrington ramps up the strange aspect, it makes for something that – in terms of British filmmaking, at least – manages to straddle the line between comforting familiarity and bold risk taking.
McCartney and Hyland are brilliant in the lead roles, typifying the ever-tumultuous wave of youth that drifts between assuredness and doubt, and they are ably supported by the likes of Lockyer, whose performance adds a touch of the arch without ever drifting into pantomime.