Director – Neil Maskell – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 84m
A couple have seen something; two men are assigned to look after them as they wait in the middle of nowhere for a journalist to come and interview them – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 1st
Mr. Appleby (Amit Shah) and Mrs. Appleby (Sura Dohnke) arrive at the house on the outskirts of a small village in Belgium they’ve booked for a party. Appleby is not their real surname, and nor will there be a party. He is what the Dutch call a ‘klokkenluider’ or bell ringer, slang in that language for whistleblower. He has approached a newspaper and is following instructions. They are at the house awaiting the arrival of a journalist to interview them.
Meanwhile, Brits Kevin (Tom Burke) and Ben (Roger Evans) are driving to meet them. They have guns in the boot. We don’t really see them at first. For the first few minutes, they are shown only in little details cropped or in shade so as to be almost unrecognisable – a fragment of a detail in a wing mirror here, a view beyond a car window part obscured by a reflection there – and they choose their words carefully so as not to give away anything more than they need to. They talk in terms of the ‘job’ or the ‘thing’ they are going to do. Again, Kevin and Ben are not their real names. Later on, Ben will reveal his real name to be Glynn in the presence of the Applebys and Kevin will take him to task for it. But, as Ben / Glynn says, it’s never made any difference before.
Kevin and Ben have a history. They’ve worked together previously, and Kevin considers Ben a security risk. This job will be the last time they work together. It’s not hard to see why. Ben likes the odd drink – or three – and is apt to slip up under the influence. Only tiny slip ups, and perhaps they don’t really make any difference to the job at the end of the day. But Kevin doesn’t like to take the risk.
And then they wait for the journalist to arrive from the paper. There’s nothing to do. They go to the shops to buy food. They go out on walks. (Both Kevin and Ben are told separately by Mr. or Mrs. Appleby the full details of what they found out, although neither Kevin nor Ben would really like to know. Because, what if Kevin found out that Ben knew, or vice versa.) They drink. They play charades. All very matey.
Later on, the journalist will arrive at the house. It’s a woman, but not the paper’s top name the Applebys were expecting. This is Flo (Jenna Coleman) – well, who knows if that’s her real name, or if she’s really a journalist – and she’s in a pretty stroppy mood after a long drive in foul weather. (She uses a much stronger word than stroppy, and she uses it a lot.) She explains that often people have seen a state secret but it’s something the paper already know and not the bombshell that the whistleblowers believe. Or it’s not actually that big a deal. But just occasionally, it is really important, so it’s her job to talk to them, find out what they have and whether it’s something of which the paper weren’t previously aware, and then – if the information they have turns out to be of value to the paper, cut a deal over a fees and so forth. And all this conversation has to take place in a quiet spot, away from the house because the premises might well be bugged…
This is essentially a four-hander, and a five-hander in its closing reel. So little information is given to the audience here that it’s really difficult to write about. At the same time, so much information is given away that there’s a great deal to write about. This is a film in which you have no idea what is going on. And yet, at the same time, you know exactly what is going on. Slowly it’s revealed that Mr. Appleby (‘Appleby’ – his wife at one point has a fit of laughter over the silly-sounding name) is an IT consultant who works in a British government office and, on one occasion, inadvertently saw something he shouldn’t on a computer. Normally, he just services the things and doesn’t see anything on them in terms of content, but on this one occasion he saw something. And that something has sent him into a panic. He thinks the country needs to know.
It makes you hope you never inadvertently see a state secret that the state wants, for whatever reason, to keep secret.
Despite being a film which essentially takes place in a house in the middle of nowhere, and a little bit in the nowhere (and village) near the house. With a small number of characters, it’s not in the least like a play. It’s more like a thriller in which nothing happens (at least, until something does), a thriller of the waiting game variety. The performance are terrific. Shah and Dohnke as the two Applebys are disarmingly ordinary and make you feel sympathetic for their plight. Would you have done the same as them if you were in their position? Probably. What else could you do? Equally, the two security men are just working stiffs doing a job, although there may be a much darker side to them than that. Roger Evans is convincing enough as the one with an unfortunate soft spot for the booze, while Tom Burke as the one of the two more in control is terrifying indeed. And Jenna Coleman’s turn as the woman who’s come to listen to the whistleblowers and make her judgement, when the narrative finally gets to it, completely steals the film.
Director Maskell is a seasoned actor in British film and TV, generally playing down to earth English types in crime movies and horror films (Nil By Mouth, Gary Oldman, 1997; Rise Of The Footsoldier, Julian Gilbey, 2007; Kill List, Ben Wheatley, 2011; Wild Bill, Dexter Fletcher, 2011, TV series Hijack, 2023). His unique presence generally brings something extra to everything in which he appears. This debut as writer-director falls into the same broad area, although the way it plays fast and loose without actually giving anything of its plot away marks it out as something rather special and Maskell a talent to watch. But then, as an acting presence in films, he always was. This is one of the most terrifying British films in years, and it’s hard to imagine anything exactly like it coming out of anther country. Highly recommended.
Klokkenluider is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, September 1st.