Having carved out a career with music documentaries like 2008’s We Dreamed America, director Alex Walker dips his toes into waters new with debut feature Fossil (2014), a psychological thriller that follows a couple on holiday in the south of France whilst they attempt to revitalise their dull marriage. Paul (John Sack) and Camilla (Edith Bucko) arrive at their picturesque holiday cottage surrounded by a thick atmospheric cloud. Words clash and their worlds collide as the pair continue to repeat their loveless, formulaic routine. The holiday is supposedly a chance for the couple to reignite the spark in their relationship, but each laboured romantic attempt endeavours only to tear the couple further apart.
Arriving back at the cottage following a huge row, the couple find an American man named Richard (Grant Masters) and his French girlfriend, Julie (Carla Juri), frolicking around in the pool, much to the chagrin of Paul. Camilla, however, sees the couple as an opportunity to lighten the mood and invites them to stay. Initially, the visitors provide some light relief but as they proceed outstay their welcome Paul becomes irritated, competitive and jealous and as tensions rise, circumstances spiral beyond self-control leading to a horrific act that will permanently alter their fates forever. Walker embraces his audience with sun-kissed visuals, glazing the environment and the characters with a sticky, hot sheen. Shot entirely on the Red One camera, the holiday cottage and grounds become captivating in their stillness.
The mise-en-scène recalls French cinema from the sixties with Le Mépris (1963) and La Piscine (1969) both heavily influencing the film’s overall appearance, yet the performances from both Paul and Camilla couldn’t be more British. Performed with a sense of middle-class realism, Paul and Camilla’s predominance fails to wane upon the arrival of their interrupters. Their importance is marked by scenes of intimacy, whether it be Camilla’s insecurity in her ageing looks or Paul’s perseverance in making his marriage work, the viewer is constantly teased with scenes that generate empathy for the unlikable protagonists. The couple clash persistently with snappy and unfeeling dialogue, the raw deliverance of which evokes the ‘stiff upper-lip’ attitude and conflict explored in Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago (2010).
The confinements of the cottage and its immediate surroundings create a dense undercurrent that continues to simmer until the film’s unexpected, boiling point finale and this is all thanks to Patrick Burniston’s subtle yet perfectly matched score. The beauty of this impressive thriller lies not only in its breathtaking visuals but in its perfect composure of rapid, blossoming tension. Engrossing, thrilling and boldly executed, Fossil is a remarkably confident feature from Walker. A breath of fresh air that captures perfectly the essence of a discordant couple, the bitter after-taste of a marriage turned sour and the reason why, no matter who or where you are, you should never talk to strangers.