The Forgotten is probably the kind of horror film that Ian McEwan or Iain Banks might have written, its preoccupations being mental illness and the ties that bind us – and its supernatural aspect probably being its weakest element. Alternatively, you might consider it Kidulthood with ghosts, its setting being a mostly deserted sink estate somewhere in London and its cast giving the drama rather more social verisimilitude than cheap B-movies are generally used to.
When Tommy’s aunt goes away, she leaves him in the care of a father who, it transpires, has been living alone in a squat in a housing estate that’s been emptied ahead of being demolished. Mark has been making a “living” strip-thieving the abandoned flats of their copper piping, and while there’s no electricity there’s plenty of spare cash for takeaways. But during the nights Tommy hears strange noises coming from the vacant flat next door, and as he and his new friend Carmen investigate, they begin to uncover a shared history that neither of them can be comfortable with.
First-time director Oliver Hampton has a history in televised police dramas, having co-created 2013 BBC miniseries Life of Crime and script edited The Bill, and it’s in how The Forgotten deals with historical criminal activity that it’s strongest, particularly as it follows Tommy and Carmen’s investigation and subsequently the effect their discoveries bring about. The way Hampton and co-screenwriter James Hall (another alumnus of The Bill) tease out the connections between the main characters is assured and absorbing, if a little predictable by the story’s end. But the paranormal disturbances that both Tommy and eventually Carmen share – while progressing logically out of their mutual associations – tend to undermine the conclusions the story reaches. It’s an easier sell for a first-time director if he can cross his genres in two markets, of course. And the ghost story is supremely well executed and not a little terrifying, even if it’s also rather familiar.
The acting is sometimes a little over-natural, for the most part lending the film a feeling of absolute realism but occasionally hesitating towards a woodenness – albeit one that resonates with the emotional stiltedness of the characters – but the deep-focus pseudo-documentary photography is gorgeous and authentic, emphasising the sparseness not just of the locations but also of the characters’ internal lives. The inside of the flat is a frighteningly blank space, shrouded in shadows lit only by stark lamplight – and would have been just as startling without the need to affect a haunting on the environment.
There’s no question that The Forgotten works exceptionally well. Not entirely unlike a more straight-laced horror equivalent of Attack the Block, it is difficult to tear your eyes away from.
THE FORGOTTEN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: OLIVER FRAMPTON / SCREENPLAY: JAMES HALL, OLIVER FRAMPTON / STARRING: CLEM TIBBER, SHAUN DINGWALL, ELARICA GALLACHER / RELEASE DATE: MAY 2ND