VOD film review: Bypass
James R | On 28, May 2015
Director: Duane Hopkins
Cast: George MacKay
Watch Bypass online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / BFI Player / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE / TalkTalk / Rakuten TV / Xbox Google Play
When it comes to British cinema, there’s nothing like a bit of kitchen sink gloom. With unemployment still high and more austerity measures to come, it’s no surprise to see Bypass, released this week on VOD, follow one of Britain’s struggling youths, for whom times are tougher than tough. But in Britain’s cinematic buffet of gritty realism, director Duane Hopkins brings something different to the table.
George MacKay plays Tim, a teen for whom life is less hard and more impossible. His brother is just out of jail, his mum has passed away and his dad nowhere to be seen. And so he shoulders the burden of being the breadwinner for the family, which mostly involves telling his sister to lock the door so the bailiffs can’t take their belongings to make up for all the unpaid bills. (The news this week that thousands of Britons have had pre-pay energy meters installed in their homes by court order after falling behind on payments only emphasises how pertinent this film’s focus on Britain’s forgotten working class is.)
Tim’s options, then, aren’t limited: they’re non-existent. He turns to fencing stolen goods to get by. Where, normally, we might frown upon a character for not taking another, morally correct route, Hopkins’ script doesn’t give us the chance: it’s too busy piling on the misfortune, from encounters with dodgy drug dealers to police chases. Even when he does scrape some cash together to pay off some of his debt, it’s thrown back in his face because he hasn’t got the right paperwork.
The result is a story that follows a disappointingly conventional thriller path, as our protagonist sinks deeper into shadier territory – all the while beset by a worsening illness.
George MacKay is astounding as the troubled boy, his sunken, sallow face visibly eroded by the sheer effort it takes to exist. Compared to his turn in Sunshine on Leith (or the countless other impressive performances in the rising star’s strong back catalogue), MacKay is almost unrecognisable, a broodingly glum presence who is magnetic to watch.
But Bypass’ biggest strength is its distinctive style, which sees Hopkins shoot events like the offspring of Zack Snyder and Ken Loach. Slow-motion sequences give way to high-contrast tableaus, a lyrical approach that gives the grime a glossy sheen. That stunning surface makes the dismal routine of Tim – and a whole lost generation – strikingly unfamiliar, adding weight to the pressure sitting on his sickened shoulders. That conscious detachment, though, also makes it harder to engage fully with the characters. But if the deliberate poetry of the visuals and the familiar nature of the plot are an obstacle, Hopkins, fittingly, finds a way around it with his final act. Led by Charlotte Spencer’s loyal girlfriend, Lily, it’s a conclusion that provides a surprising and welcome note of hope; a beautiful ray of light in the British gloom.