The idea of a broken family unit coalescing at the family home to give support for an imminent matriarchal passing is hardly something new. Yet this format gives such scope for narrative surprises and intricate characters nuances within a generally isolated and confined environment that the genre still holds its own within our superhero obsessive popcorn culture.
The matriarch in question in Dictynna Hood’s second feature is Marianne, who has lived her bohemian lifestyle out in the remote family farmhouse in Dartmoor. Now suffering from cancer, she has invited her sons Owen and Danny and daughter Rose, along with their spouses, to celebrate her final birthday alongside her husband Richard and his brother Jack. In keeping with the nonconformist existence, family relations aren’t quite as biologically simple as first appear with each member of the family harbouring their own secrets and suspicions. Owen played here by a downbeat Laurence Fox, gives the affair some narration while battling problems with his estranged partner Mina. Greg Hicks is in full Bill Nighy ham mode, while Danny, played by Jethro Skinner, appears the light-hearted figure in the all too downcast kinfolk.
While the acting here is all solid, the narrative suffers from a lack of direction. There are some secrets to be let out, but Hood takes so long to reveal them that by the time they hit, it’s difficult to care too much. The characters are all too downtrodden, glum and neurotic to have any empathy attached to them, which for a character piece is a no small problem. Sinead Matthews’ Anna is probably the most affable member of the crew, playing the girlfriend of serial wide-up merchant Jack, trapped in his company with a newborn and two step-children who both seem to revel in hating her.
Hood also employs an odd editing strategy, in which b-feel shares as much running time as played out scenes and stills of the current scene are interspersed with live-action. This results in a rather jarring experience and when stills from the past are introduced too can make proceedings a little confusing.
The result of these character flaws and hastily annoying visual arrangement makes Us Among the Stones a difficult film to connect with and feels instantly forgettable at the credits. It’s a shame as an excellent cast of upcoming and more established British actors deserved much better.
Dir: Dictynna Hood
Scr: Dictynna Hood
Cast: Laurence Fox, Anna Calder-Marshall, Sinead Matthews, Oliver Cotton, Greg Hicks, Jethro Skinner
Prd: Thembisa Cochrane, Georgie Paget
DOP: Annemarie Lean-Vercoe
Run Time: 95 minutes