Alan Laidlaw reviews The Incident at Edinburgh International Film Festival – a sterile, disappointingly typical British class drama helped along with a captivating central performance.
In The Incident actions speak louder than words – but even at that, the film’s message comes out as a hushed, muffled murmur instead of a defiant exclamation.
There appears to be a belief coming from director Jane Linfoot that installing silences and having young, attractive, middle-class people look glumly off into the distance will give the impression that there’s something emotionally weighted beyond the surface level of the characters and the scenes they inhibit.
But there just isn’t enough substance in the sketch-thin thematic framework of The Incident to encourage you to explore beyond the pleasant-but-dull blue-hued characters and surroundings.
It’s hard to know exactly what The Incident is referring to in its title. It could easily be called The Incidents and make as much, if not more sense.
The first incident occurs when a successful architect Joe (Tom Hughes) commits adultery with a troubled teenager Lily (Tasha Connor) in his car outside a pizza parlour. Joe hangs his guilt on his sleeves around his wife Annabel (Ruta Gedmintas), but it appears things were already far from perfect between the young, wealthy couple as they agitate each other in almost every exchange.
The second incident occurs shortly after, as Lily, recognising the car of Tom, decides to get drunk in the garden and invade the couple’s home when Annabel is alone, startling her with a menacing balaclava’d face before running off without stealing anything or harming her.
This invasion scene takes up an inordinate amount of time to pass, and although infused with a haunting, hazy and ultimately horrific aura; it drags on, losing a momentum in narrative that’s never fully regained.
The film ends up coming across like a parable on class structure because of the way it rigidly assembles its characters into the story. The wealthy middle class couple act as one would expect in the situation – they are aloof, overly sensitive and feel mortified when their comfortable life is intruded upon, and the young teenager is given all the credibility and sympathy of something that is stuck on the shoe of the director.
Nothing about the film is very believable, with people acting like pawns in a game of cinematic chess that feels fixed from the very beginning, with the film becoming increasingly laboured as it draws towards a much welcomed conclusion.
There are some minor, but not insignificant salvations to be taken from The Incident, primarily the performance of Ruta Gedmintas as the vexed, cuckolded wife which has a bare intensity that translates a good deal more than anything that’s been handed to her in the script. There’s also a beautiful understanding of how to photograph the environment, appropriately cloaking it in a myriad of melancholic colours and shades.
Linfoot occasionally probes at bigger issues, but ultimately resists any notions of exploring them in detail; this is the film’s biggest failing, as there’s a moral tale of considerable substance that’s by no means out of her, ultimately, unfulfilled reach.
The Incident will never amount to anything more than a by-the-numbers observation of British class structure, but in the oft stunning acting of Gedmintas – at least it’s not all been wasteful.