36 Diwnord/ 35 Days
As previewed in Note to my readers of Some New Series 17th April 2014.
Quoted from TV (Virgin Media) Channel 166 preview:
“A body is discovered on a living room floor. But who is responsible for Jan’s death?”
So 35 Diwrnod is a slow burner. By which i mean if you can make it through to episode one, which admittedly is tough going and then to the end of episode two: you will find it gathers pace and gets all kind of interesting by the time you hit episode three.
Episode one on reflection is mainly scene setting. Plus our introduction to the characters. The scene is very small. Stultifyingly small. 35 Diwrnod being entirely, well for the most part, so far with the exception of a brief outing for one of the characters in episode three: confined to a cul-de-sac composed of a housing estate. A posh one at that.
In America i believe these estates are called gated compounds and indeed there is, visible at times a wrought iron gate, tall and filigreed. But not locked.
As if often the way in England, this estate, from brief fleeting glimpses we see of a walkway that leads out and eventually into a forest, the estate seems idyllic and countrified. However there is a large motorway perilously close to it. The country idea is all an illusion.
Yet the forest, which figures largely in the (early) scenery and to great effect, is wide and real. Indeed forests have become fixed in the folklore if you like of murder mysteries now.
The forest itself is filmed in all its evocative ancient and misty glory. The drama opens with someone standing in the forest and any later incursions into the forest are shadowed with fearful associations deliberately induced in both viewer and character alike. By the time honoured filming device of creating a shot viewed by a hidden person, behind a tree, watching the person we see.
There is also an instance of a character with his child reacting to this unseen rustling as if of papery leaves and experiencing fearfully, the possibility of an unseen presence. The watcher.
So the estate is in the middle of nowhere and there are no shops. A nicely cobbled road leads in and out of the estate by a circular path. There are detached houses with mullioned windows and stained glass in the doors. The ornamental gardens of shrubberies only are carefully pruned and round. There are no flowers. They must not be allowed.
Apart from one character at the beginning, nobody is seen walking away from The Close.
(what such a place is normally called) Everybody drives. Occasionally taxis come and go.
The arrival of a taxi, with a new person in it is sufficient an event to merit a resident peeping through a front window to see. Because, did i mention yet, everybody is bored. They are all bored out of their minds.
The ones that go to work are the lucky ones. But even they slump into frozen ennui shortly afterwards. Gazing out of the window mostly in petrified gloom.
Time ticks inexorably slowly. We are even shown a clock on the wall. Ticking the minutes by like the earth had near stood still. Inside a shed in which one of the characters takes refuge, we hear multiple ticking. It was a while before i traced this sound to the sight of a collection of cuckoo clocks on the wall.
Things move very slowly. Very slowly indeed. Because apart from cooking, done by one character quite religiously (she even makes home-made porridge) possibly for something to do, along with pruning the bulbous shrubbery and the occasional party: there is absolutely nothing to do.
Another character, in startling contrast, empties half a packet of biscuits onto the pristine black marble counter.
Nb. Everybody has a marble/ granite worktop. It is how I identified which kitchen a character was in. By the colour of the counter I think this was deliberate.
The biscuits tumbled out, loose and lay there. No plates. The character plonked down a jar of Marmite as well.
“Tea!” she shouted angrily.
I wondered how the biscuits were going to go with the Marmite.
Even the parties, notwithstanding the fairly fun 18th birthday party for a character’s child, are dull. The adult parties are excruciatingly dull. Hideous over loud Jazz muzak plays. There are nibbles. A dire and dreadful cushioned semi-circular bar with two stools. One of which a character uncomfortably perches on.
There is a Damien Hirst inspired or authentic black human skull in a glass display case, a white stag horn on the wall. What is it with white bone stag heads at the moment in films?!
Nobody has anything new to say. They only carp and pick at each other. Endlessly.
(Nb. So i am up to episode five now and will watch it on a bigger screen on TV, without headphones on. In the dark, for atmosphere. That set-up may have contributed to two instances where i heard noises outside the room i was in. Which coincided with some sinisterly similar scenes on screen…
The dolls are put to good and full classic horror use as they stand, unblinking on the shelf..The growing swarm of origami birds throws shadows on the walls.
The hell of suburbia, the cellophane wrapped doll collection. The too too perfectness of everything. So severe a perfectness as to create an arid alternate universe.
Well the dolls seemed cellophane wrapped at one point. Perhaps that is my own particular horror. Embroidered upon the rows of cold-eyed dolls. Pristine dolls with costumes on, Welsh, certainly clicked some dim and distant memory for me.
We see Beti, religiously prepare a home-made tea, beautiful bone china cups, crumpets. (In one of those silver holders) This procedure is viewed stage by stage from above. All in circular round.
Unfortunately, instead of being a comforting and homely ritual, reminding me of sumptuous teas in perilously high silver tiered cake holders from childhood days and white-haired Grandmothers, this ritual takes on a sinister air. Like the preparation of a spell.
Beti begins to become almost witch-like in apparition, calling forth a spirit, throwing multitudes of papers about the room. Whilst near chanting to the night.
I half expected the papers to start floating and twirling in a circle, round and around the room. Beti seemed so kindly at first. As did everyone else. Yet they are all pretty much sloughing of layers of habit and politeness as we watch, like snakes shedding skins.
The stultifying boredom and stillness especially of the first few episodes is deliberate.
The new build houses have no imprints, hardly any memories. They are not fixed and solid, weathered yet by time. The houses are an artificial creation almost like an unreal oasis in the desert that shimmers as mirage above the sand. The lost and thirst starved traveller of the desert crawls towards it, believing, always believing. But the oasis isn’t there.
The houses maybe prettily patterned, both inside and out. Just like the shrubbery, perfectly manicured and pristine. However like the mirage in the desert they are too thin and shimmering to be truly real.
The people inside the houses are really trapped in the boxes of their lives. The pretty fixtures have stopped distracting and convincing them otherwise.
The characters are indeed in some kind of purgatory. Moving yet not moving, in hell but not quite fully there yet. Whether the characters are there yet does not really matter. Since nearly all of them started accepting that they were living as if they were in hell quite some long time ago. They can’t get out.
Like the Hotel California song says: you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.
There is beautiful atmospheric music throughout, somewhat akin to The Killing. At one point glockenspiels merrily play. Then piano, violins. The music actually adds rather than annoys-it adds atmosphere to the scenery.
The night scenes outside the houses are shot as if we are looking out of the windows. There are a myriad variations of shades of blue and black and green.
In my favourite scenic interlude, a tree rustles in the wind like the waves heard when the wind rushes on the sea. A sort of silvery sound, softer than when the leaves on the tree are dry. When the leaves all delicately dangle and dance in the wind. That sound.
Slowly but surely, the front door to Jan’s house becomes, unwillingly on her part, the unwitting gaping portal that cannot be closed or sufficiently protected. Jan’s front door becomes the vector upon which all the hate and desire and pent up silently screaming boredom and frustration is vented. By the other residents.
Jan’s front door becomes the gate to hell. The entrance to the Underworld. The dark river silently flowing onwards. Without need for a boat or a boatman to lead the way.
Dialogue & Notes:
We focus with close-up intent on a giant halogen light-bulb. Then a circuit breaker.
(halogen light-bulbs are beautiful- i do understand)
Many phrases are in English:
“GBH (grievous bodily harm) with intent!”
“Fancy a shag”
“Dinoche” is thank you-with a “cch” sound like someone about to spit.
“bonked” in English is”bonko” in Welsh!
Pat is like some Dynasty heroine.
“My face looks like an Orang-utan’s arse with piles!” (i quite like Pat)
Richard & Sali.
“I hate New Years Eve parties, I’d rather have had a night in”
“Do you have anything to say at all this evening?”
“All you do is complain”
“Do you have anything new to say?”
(this about sums the situation up)