A brunette comes to in the shallows of a deserted beach. She crawls out of the water, checks her pockets – she is carrying a computer disc – before seeing a man collapsed further along the sand. She runs to him and falls on top of him – it’s not clear whether to kiss him, or to strangle him. From this ambiguous, involving beginning, Jetsam spools out the story of the woman on the beach – her name is Grace, or is it Rachel? (Alex Reid) – as she pieces together how she ended up in the water on that overcast morning.
She recently moved in with Jack (Cal Macaninch). He’s a computer entrepreneur, spending long hours on a difficult, confidential project. Rachel passes the time jogging, which is how they met; their relationship’s moved along fast. But if they are as in love as they claim to be, why does she sneak off to see a man called Kemp (Jamie Draven) in a squat across town? And who is the blonde woman also calling herself Rachel (Shauna Macdonald) who is following Jack around?
The most astonishing thing about Simon Welsford’s directorial debut is that its up-front budget was 2,500 pounds ($5,000). His actors – mainly British TV stalwarts, although Draven was the older brother in Billy Elliot – deferred their salaries; and the whole shoot, with a crew of three and without permits, took only 14 days. Due to the claustrophobic setting, the lack of budget is really visible only in the dull indoor lighting in several important scenes.
Despite these constraints, Welsford has created a tightly structured if loosely paced thriller about the impossibility of love and trust in a surveillance culture. The handheld juddering camera style brings immediacy to the action; some shots create dread simply by shooting from a hidden position through bushes or tall grass. The locations in London are nothing fancy, which makes a refreshing comparison to the Hollywood-style glamor of something like Love Actually. The beach shots are also a wholly accurate depiction of dreariness of the English coastline off-season.
Unfortunately, Jetsam breaks little new ground – the issues addressed are known from, for example, The Conversation and The Lives of Others. Having a man endangered by two mysterious women is an interesting angle, but not quite enough to sustain the whole film. The twist is clever, but so thoroughly explained that attention lags. However the layered flashbacks never become confusing, and Reid’s lonely, tough and bewildered performance kept me focused to the end.
Keeping the factors of its making in mind, Welsford has done an astonishing job. He has amply proved that, with an original premise and more money than a blockbuster’s weekly coffee budget, he could spread his wings and fly. But on its own, Jetsam is a must-see only for surveillance thrillers and Anglophone enthusiasts.
Its world premiere at the Times BFI London Film Festival was prefaced by Simon Antoine’s Taxi for the Comedian, an ill-judged, forgettable short about an old-school-style stand-up before an understandably hostile audience.
© 2007 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.
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