During one of A Patch of Fog‘s increasingly sinister exchanges between unhinged cat and desperate mouse, Stephen Graham’s devilishly dubious security guard, Robert, threatens his quarry with disconcerting rhetoric: “Am I a sad little man?” Though voiced by a veritable oddball, the sentiment could equally be applied to his prey, Sandy Duffy, a renowned novelist played by Conleth Hill – who will be familiar to many as Lord Varys in Game of Thrones. Through the titular blanket of low-hanging precipitation, secrets, lies and long-buried anxieties blur in and out of focus in an assuredly composed psychological thriller.
Polarised by fame, experience and opportunity, it is Sandy’s inherent vice that draws two men from opposite ends of Belfast’s societal spectrum together. Living off the astronomical royalties earned from his now 25 year-old bestseller that shares the film’s name, Sandy is left weary and unfulfilled by television appearances and the trappings of success, in spite of an affair with talk show anchor Lucy (Laura Pulver). A man of enormous wealth, inexplicable kleptomania allows him to feel alive, a surge of illicit behaviour offering a break from the tedium of a privileged existence. During one such shoplifting excursion the theft of a pen is caught on camera: the irony of a writer stealing the tools of his own trade provides one moment of humour in a script which is consistently, uncomfortably funny.
Taken ‘out the back’ Sandy’s sense of entitlement assumes a pay-off will be his get out of jail card but his offer falls on deaf ears. What are Robert’s motivations? Not money. Does he really just want a friend? The enigmatic nature of Graham’s character is well judged by director and disconcertingly well played by an actor who puts in an enthralling turn. A forced kinship proceeds with stalker-like awkwardness as Sandy looks to extricate himself from a sticky situation that could end his career. A gulf in intellect may appear to divide the two men but underestimating Robert’s cunning capabilities has dire consequences on more than one occasion, twists and turns seeing the best cards frequently change hands.
So often limited to depicting The Troubles, it is refreshing to see the Northern Irish capital filmed as a modern urban landscape devoid of political inference. With much of the film taking place at night, rain dampened streets glisten with the yellow hue of street lamps, electric blues and the flashes of headlights; the orange glow from a floor heater and the striking green of Robert’s snake’s cage further contributing to a rich visual aesthetic. Instances of exultation – where Sandy foolishly considers himself in the clear – are marked by the surging, pulsing riffs and melodic harmonies of Rory Gallagher, reflective of a kinetic, well-paced picture. A study of obsession, crushing loneliness, masculine insecurity and the pressures of legacy, Michael Lennox’s impressive debut feature is a murky, mercurial tale led by two tremendous actors who bring considerable heft to a British indie that shows signs of real promise in a gifted up-and-coming filmmaker.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens