Baiting a homophobic bed and breakfast owner, a young married couple return to his lodgings one year after winning a court case against his discrimination. But what starts as a game of awkward one-upmanship between the husbands and the homophobe takes a darker turn when a third party arrives at the guesthouse. It’s a battle of the gaydar as they try to work out who, if anyone, this new arrival has come to bash.
Smaller mysteries and increasingly tense confrontations mount up in this psychological thriller from TV director Joe Aherne. At the losing end of what is a very one-sided moral argument, B&B owner Josh should be a cut-and-dry domestic monster, but Aherne cleverly subverts stereotypes and keeps all of his characters shrouded in the moral grey area. The villain is strangely sympathetic, one of our heroes is a dick, the other is kind of annoying, the confused sixteen-year-old is an idiot and the sinister Russian… well, nobody knows exactly what his game is. There are no easy stereotypes or audience cues here (although Sean Teale’s Fred is the most likeable of the lot), and B&B will keep audiences guessing to the end.
This is smart, unpredictable storytelling, in which nothing plays out quite like you’d expect. The stakes are remarkably low, making for more of a bleak drama than outright thriller, but the characters are so compelling that audiences will be hooked nevertheless. Well-judged pinches of blackly absurdist humour keep the story from becoming too dry, from a ridiculously hi-tech bit of Peeping Tom gear to the fun interactions between all of the characters.
All of the cast do a great job in their respective positions, but, as one would expect, Paul McGann leads the way as the quiet, conflicted Josh. With a clever, ever-twisting story and its complicated, conflicted characters, B&B is a work reminiscent of early Danny Boyle. Sure, it lacks the visual flourishes and cool soundtrack, and it’s very slow-burning at times, but this is smart, daring filmmaking; budget British cinema at its most Bold & Beautiful.
B&B / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOE AHEARNE / STARRING: SEAN TEALE, TOM BATEMAN, PAUL MCGANN, CALLUM WOODHOUSE, JAMES TRATAS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW