Two gangsters are given 72 hours to discover the whereabouts of a stash of drug money stolen by their boss. There’s only one problem…they just murdered him. Frantic to find the cash, the hapless criminals kidnap a psychic medium and force her to contact the dead gang boss. Unfortunately for them, they only succeed in unleashing an evil spirit bent on revenge.
Let’s start with the obvious, the film is called Polterheist. If you’re watching a film called Polterheist, you’d probably expect a silly horror comedy, but this is something more. Instead, David Gilbank, Gemma Head and Paul Renhard have crafted a surprisingly effective gangster film with a decidedly North of England sensibility and a paranormal slant (that isn’t necessarily the horror you might expect).
Set in Bradford, West Yorkshire, there’s a touch of League of Gentlemen in its humour, exploiting the ridiculousness of the situation whilst still offering relatively grounded dialogue when it needs it. In lesser hands, the film could swing wildly from style to style, yet the script manages to keep itself together as it navigates its various elements and takes a tongue-in-cheek swing at cultural diversity, too. If you look deep enough, you can find a story about wanting to belong or wanting to improve life chances; it’s all wrapped up in an entertaining story with an occasionally wry and sometimes cruel sense of humour.
The characters are suitably larger than life without sliding into parody. Tariq (Sid Akbar Ali) and Boxy (Jamie Cymbal) are an odd and entertainingly effective pairing as the hapless criminals that happen to be the heroes of this story. Add a robust performance as the possessed psychic from Jo Mousley (channelling the dead gang boss Frank) and it’s a winning combination that turns the film into a supernatural crime caper before showing us that there’s no honour among thieves and vengeance comes from beyond the grave. Although a tertiary character, Monty Sehmi stands out as a strong, silent and rather intimidating thug (who unfortunately meets an early demise).
Whilst the film manages to deliver on its premise, it’s not a horror film or ghost story in the traditional sense and could have probably done with a less jokey sounding title. Throughout the film, there’s always a sense of wanting more – the supernatural is only briefly explored before we accept that the psychic is possessed by the gang boss and there’s little doubt that, for the purpose of the story, she’s the real deal. Polterheist isn’t trying to make bold claims, but it does seem that the central conceit is a convenient plot device. If it wasn’t so well executed and entertaining, it’d be a disappointment and it’d be certainly interesting to see what the writers could do with more a more traditional story. They’ve certainly got the skill and the cast in Polterheist.
As a straight-to-video offering, Polterheist clearly didn’t have the highest of budgets, but it’s all well used. The film doesn’t overdo its use of special effects, uses its Yorkshire setting well and doesn’t always stick to the mundane. There’s a beauty to the cinematography of the film and the choice of locations, even if it’s a working men’s club with the most wryly comical of topless dancing scenes (just watch their expressions!)
Polterheist is something of a well-observed film with a strong final act that eschews the criminality and violence that comes before it without losing sight of what makes the film a success. It certainly won’t satisfy viewers hoping for a gorefest, but it definitely delivers on story, character and humour.
Dir: David Gilbank
Scr: David Gilbank, Gemma Head, Paul Renhard
Cast: Jo Mousley, Jamie Cymbal, Sid Akbar
Prd: Pepe Fowler
DOP: Chris Powell
Country: United Kingdom
Runtime: 86 mins