VOD film review: A Patch of Fog
Josh Slater-Williams | On 09, Jul 2016
Director: Michael Lennox
Cast: Conleth Hill, Stephen Graham, Lara Pulver, Ian McElhinney
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Following Oscar-nominated short Boogaloo and Graham, A Patch of Fog marks the feature debut of Northern Irish director Michael Lennox. Belfast is the setting of this low-budget thriller, though with nary a reference to the Troubles in the film’s screenplay or geography, the two-hander drama could plausibly take place just about anywhere. It’s in the mould of thrillers like Misery and The Fan, where a symbiotic relationship begins between a media personality and an obsessive stalker, though any veers towards violence as a means of conflict resolution in A Patch of Fog come only after a considerably lengthy bout of mind games first. And in being set in the run-up to 25th December, it offers a new contender for the misanthrope crowd to declare as their favourite Christmas film – take that, The Proposition.
Conleth Hill (currently best known as Varys in Game of Thrones) plays this film’s media personality, wealthy author Sandy Duffy, still coasting on the stardom and income afforded by his lone novel, A Patch of Fog. He repeatedly rebuffs calls for a follow-up work, instead maintaining his profile by appearing as a regular commentator on a culture panel show and teaching creative writing at a university. He’s begrudgingly agreed to be interviewed in a special episode of the show for a milestone anniversary of the book, so it’s not the ideal time for negative publicity to arrive. Unfortunately, Sandy is something of a kleptomaniac, having a penchant for shoplifting petty items like paperweights and aftershave, all for the cheap thrill. When he’s finally caught in the act by an observant CCTV room security guard in a department store, flaws in his over-inflated sense of self-importance turn what could simply be an embarrassing incident into a life-sabotaging one. He pleads with the guard to cut him some slack and gets his wish. He’ll soon wish he hadn’t.
The security guard, Robert (Graham), agrees not to alert the authorities, if Sandy will meet him for a few drinks after work. The author sits through some awkward small talk, thinking that’ll be that, but it turns out Robert wants something else before disposing of the surveillance footage that incriminates Sandy. He wants their fake friendship to become a real one, and calmly insinuates himself into the author’s life by dragging him out to the pub on a regular basis, showing up to his university lectures, and insisting on accompanying him to the exhibitions he has to attend for the panel show. In order to avoid dealing with the police, Sandy goes along with it for a time, but his resentment at the ordeal culminates in multiple outbursts of escalating severity, only for him to discover that the seemingly dim-witted social misfit after his affection is a lot more cunning, and more dangerously unhinged, than meets the eye.
If there’s perhaps one major issue with the film’s construction that perturbs, it’s that Robert’s expertise with manoeuvring through security setups leads to an escalation of threat that moves a bit too quickly into territory where you really would question why Sandy wouldn’t pursue assistance from public authorities; Robert’s behaviour starts coming across as life-threatening in a plausibly fatal way to the viewer much earlier than it does the protagonist.
That said, as an efficient, low-stakes thriller, A Patch of Fog comes recommended, mainly thanks to the showcase it provides for its leads: two reliable character actors given a chance to headline a psychologically probing battle-of-the-wits, something usually reserved for bigger movie stars, when this sort of film had an easier time getting funded in the current landscape. Working from a script by John Cairns and Michael McCartney, Lennox achieves a solid balance between genuine tension and the dark comedy afforded by Sandy’s botched attempts to be free of his apparent new life companion. A strength, too, lies in hardly shying away from Sandy’s own contemptible attributes – this isn’t so much a case of good man versus man-child stalker as it is a comeuppance for someone shady enough in his own right.
A Patch of Fog is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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Photo: Robert Jones