Lava is an extraordinarily in-yer-face British revenge thriller which, whilst critically well-regarded when it was released way back in 2001, pretty much sailed right under the radar of popular taste and sank without trace. Dusted down and resurrected on DVD nearly fifteen years later it remains a curious and welcome antidote to all those sub-Lock Stock British gangster yarns which were a tiresome vogue for what seemed like an inordinately long time. Lava is a tough, brutal foul-mouthed movie – lock Granny in a cupboard – yet it’s also shot through with pitch black gallows humour and occasionally a warm and warped sense of family and responsibility. It’s gloriously violent too.
Writer/director Joe Tucker plays the somewhat delusional Smiggy, an ex-soldier who sets off with the autistic Phillip (James Holmes) to mete out their own form of justice on vicious thug Darrel (Graeme Fox), just released from a pitifully-short prison sentence for crippling Phillip’s brother and turning him into little more than a drooling cabbage. Darrel, however, is involved in a deal with some ruthless Yardy drug-dealers, and when Smiggy and Phillip arrive at Darrel’s flat a continuous case of mistaken identity spirals out of control into an orgy of violence, blood-letting and sometimes eye-watering profanity. Lava is, as you might have gathered, strictly for adults only. It’s also remarkably assured for a low-budget Brit-flick and irresistibly watchable despite the grubby low-life nature of its entire ensemble cast of characters.
Set against the backdrop of the Notting Hill Festival (footage is laced throughout the movie as a counterpoint to the raw and sometimes matter-of-fact violence of the narrative), Lava depicts early 21st century London with rather more pinpoint accuracy than the sweetness-and-light (and largely white-faced) version depicted in the likes of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. This is clearly Tucker’s film from beginning to end, and Smiggy is a complex and convoluted presence, part reluctant psychopath, part puritan – he dispatches violence casually and almost accidentally and he can’t abide a swearing woman (and former EastEnder Nicola Stapleton’s Julie’s cussing would make a trooper blush) and he’s nicely counterpointed by the naive and slow-witted Phillip, wracked with guilt because he stood by and watched as his brother was brutalised. Tucker and Holmes are – fittingly for a film called Lava – scorchingly good in their roles (bearing in mind there’s not a duff performance in sight) and one of the many frustrations of the movie’s low profile is the fact that neither have yet gone on to become major players in a British film and TV industry that need all the talent and charisma it can get.
Lava may be a bit strong for some stomachs, but if you’re in the mood for some distinctly Tarantino-esque Grand Guignol violence and a richly-drawn story full of characters you can’t help but feel some sympathy for set in London’s greasy underbelly of crime, drugs, poverty and violence, it’s a weird and wonderful cult title you’d be advised to track down. Lava is, quite simply (and we were never going to resist this one) hot stuff.
Special Features: Behind the scenes
LAVA / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOE TUCKER / STARRING: JOE TUCKER, JAMES HOLMES, NICOLA STAPLETON, GRAEME FOX, TOM BELL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW