Features Live Action Movies

Silver Haze

Director – Sacha Polak – 2023 – UK – Cert. 15 – 102m


A young nurse – who seeks closure and revenge from being burned in a fire as a child – falls into a romantic attachment which may lead her towards a sense of community – out in UK cinemas on Friday, March 29th

This is the second collaboration between writer-director Polak and performer Vicky Knight, who in real life as a small child was burned in a fire and whose flesh is marked by the physical scars of that trauma. In Dirty God (2019), their first film together, Knight delivered a bravura performance as the victim of an acid attack.

In addition to her being compelling on the screen in that film, Knight apparently enjoyed the whole process of making and promoting it, and Polak wanted to do a further film with her, writing a twenty-page fictional treatment and then leaping into a shoot without fully knowing what she was doing. Her backers misunderstood her to be making a documentary about Knight, yet this is a work of fiction, using created characters to explore the effect of Knight’s real life trauma. If the scars are clearly visible on Knight’s body, what draws you in is something altogether beyond that, the trauma playing out in her interior life. There is no doubt that she is a gifted and talented actress, and one hopes that Polak and other directors can find other roles for her in the future, not necessarily related to her bodily scars.

While the lack of a fully fleshed out screenplay is usually a recipe for disaster, Polak and her collaborators here are the exception that proves the rule, crafting something truly remarkable out of the resultant chaos on the smallest of production budgets.

23-year-old East London nurse Franky (Knight) has never got over the fire in which she was trapped as a child and in which her brother died saving her by throwing her out of an upstairs window. She was locked in the premises when she should never have been. The incident, which comes up in conversation but is never shown, has left much of her body scarred by severe burns.

Her father was having an affair with a woman who, Franky has convinced herself without any real proof, started the fire, and Franky now seeks both closure and revenge – not least because, shortly afterwards, her father abandoned her and her mother to start a new life with the other woman, never bothering to come back and even attempt to talk to them about his departure. Consequently, while her father and his new partner may have moved on in their lives, Franky has found herself unable to do so, cannot forgive them, and still harbours a grudge.

At the start of the narrative, she is taking solace in both soft drugs and her relationship with an unemployed boyfriend with a penchant for wearing a gas mask during sex, dumping the latter early on. Franky becomes fascinated by a patient from the hospital where she works who has attempted suicide; she and that young woman Florence (Esmé Creed-Miles) embark on a romance, with Franky staying on and off at Florence’s coastal town home where she finds herself welcomed into the company of Florence’s caring foster mum Alice (Angela Bruce) and Wikipedia-obsessed foster brother Jack (Archie Brigden).

Meanwhile, Franky’s sister Leah (Vicky’s real-life sister Charlotte) has recently embraced Islam and wears a hijab. Her enthusiasm for her new religion contrasts with her fundamental lack of knowledge of it, leaving Franky to point out that alcohol may be against her religion when they are all enjoying a drink at home.

The low budget and lack of production value, with the cast supplying their own clothes and make-up, belie the power of the multiple storylines shooting off in all directions, something which would usually be a liability but in Polak’s hands proves an asset, allowing the proceedings to throw up such unsettling visuals as Franky hurling a Molotov cocktail into her father’s family’s house only to see her young half-brother staring at it in the sitting room in the distance.

As her relationship with Florence falls apart, Franky finds herself welcomed by the sagely Alice as a friend, or possibly a surrogate daughter, even if Florence doesn’t really want her former girlfriend there. After Alice is later diagnosed with and succumbs to cancer, she must attend the Christian funeral of Alice, who never adhered to that religion, at least not by name, in life, yet who during her lifetime promoted such ideas as looking after others. As the film closes, there seems a real possibility that Franky may finally be able to let go of her grudge and forgive her father and partner after all these years.

With all the different elements flying around its running narrative, Silver Haze feels like a firecracker constantly exploding up this or that avenue, a pot-pourri of dazzling and kaleidoscopic visuals reminiscent of a microbudget Nic Roeg (Don’t Look Now, 1973; Bad Timing, 1980; Eureka, 1983). Polak seems to be developing as a filmmaker in great leaps and strides, and that sensibility, coupled with Vicky Knight’s extraordinary performance, make this current offering essential viewing.

Silver Haze is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, March 29th.

Read my shorter review at Reform magazine.


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