out of Five
Running time: 79
Helen is beautifully shot, with an intriguing premise and an impressive performance by Annie Townsend, but it's often frustrating and is hampered by some dodgy directorial decisions.
What's it all about?
When local teenager Joy disappears and is presumed murdered, loner Helen (Annie Townsend) agrees to play her in a police reconstruction for TV. As she takes to wearing Joy's distinctive yellow leather jacket (how she gets to keep it is never explained), she becomes increasingly obsessed with the dead girl, befriending her parents (Sandie Mahlia and Dennis Jobling) and even getting Joy's ex-boyfriend (Danny Groenland) to deflower her.
Newcomer Annie Townsend gives a fascinating performance as Helen – it starts from almost nothing and grows on you more and more as the story unfolds. There are also several striking images, such as an early shot of a line of police combing the forest.
There's a superb central idea here, but the film ends just as it's getting interesting. Similarly, Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor's joint directorial style is oddly distancing (it's reminiscent of The Last Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael, only not as horrible), with an ever-present discordant soundtrack and long takes and close-ups of nothing happening.
Unfortunately, there are also several annoying directorial decisions, such as all the dialogue in the film being delivered in the same measured, precise and oddly patronising tone: for example, the first scene involving speech is when a detective is asking Joy's parents to identify her things and speaking to them slowly and deliberately because they're in shock... and then everyone else in the film speaks the same way. There are also odd moments where side characters deliver inappropriate motivational speeches that don't quite work.
In addition, the complexities of the film's funding mean that the setting is indeterminate, with characters speaking with either Irish accents, Newcastle accents, Birmingham accents or Liverpool accents, all of which is very distracting and detracts from the film.
Ultimately, Helen doesn't quite work, but it remains an oddly haunting experience that's definitely worth seeing. Terrific final line, too.