First time directing – alongside writing – isn’t an easy process, and usually results with a watchable average film that feels more like a directorial experimental process. Take arguably the world’s hottest director right now, Christopher Nolan; if you go watch Following and then continue watching his filmography chronologically, you will begin to notice an evolution of sorts with his shot composition, personable style, narrative structure, and directing in general. The point being is that a director’s first outing is usually their weakest production because it’s typically the beginning of their career. That same logic applies to everything really; this review is probably leagues better than the first one I wrote.
Still does not feel like a film created by a first-time director though, it’s the complete opposite. Director Simon Blake has filled this movie with multiple unique shots – scenes filmed from outside a halfway closed-door, dirty noir-inspired looks at urban North London, etc – framed around a story that, while it is a slow burn, builds to an unforgettably tragic climax. In other words, Still gives the impression that it was directed by a veteran of the industry.
Of course, you can’t tell a compelling story without gripping performances. so thankfully Simon Blake is also exceptional at getting mesmerizing turns from his actors. Game Of Thrones star Aidan Gillen plays Tom Carver, a divorced photographer still recovering from the gang-related death of his son that took place a year ago. There’s a saying that goes “Time heals all wounds,” but that isn’t entirely true here, as Carver still visits his son’s grave regularly with his ex-wife Rachel (Amanda Mealing)
As Still progresses, it’s clear that Carver is on the verge of having a breakdown and is simply strolling through life waiting for a catalyst to send his repressed anger over the edge. That catalyst comes in the form of a group of hooligans that are highly likely to be connected to the murder of his very own son, killing yet another child. Over time Carver befriends the brother of the newly deceased child, and begins to have more chance interactions with the London-based street gang. Naturally, the encounters become more serious and dangerous, sending Carver to a dark place both mentally and physically.
What makes Still really pop and feel alive – aside from the phenomenal directing by Simon Blake – are the performances from the two leads, Aidan Gillen and Amanda Mealing. Gillen is a ticking time bomb on the verge of exploding, while Mealing excellently portrays the concerned ex-wife character. Some of their scenes together toward the latter half of the film are completely riveting and intense, but most importantly, the characters feel real. These aren’t characters half the time, they are real people reacting to a horrifying life-changing incident in a manner that most of society would react. To say more on the kinds of activities Carver entertains himself with while not spending time at his son’s grave would be spoiling some great scenes, so let’s just say as the movie goes on he is presented as more and more of a wreck, just begging for revenge.
Still spends almost over half of its 97 minute running time building Carver’s character, adding a couple more layers to the tragic personification every 15 minutes or so, which ultimately leads to a film that is a slow burn but one that also packs an emphatic resonating final act. If Still rushed its portrayal of the characters, the film’s final scenes simply wouldn’t be anywhere near as enthralling as they are. It is a bit of a catch 22 though, because there are times during the first half of Still where it truly doesn’t feel like much is happening, and that you’re anxiously waiting for what you know is going to happen, to go down. Like I said though, the following half of the film more than makes up for the slow pacing of the first half. The ending will certainly sit in the mind of audiences for quite a while as well.
The atmosphere of Still is also nailed, depicting North London with an unsettling and gritty vibe. Whether Carver is walking the streets by day to pick up flowers for his son’s burial residence or chasing the mentally corrupt youngsters through back alleys in the night, there is a staggering amount of detail in the background that further brings the film alive. Once again, a lot of that is due to the fact that Simon Blake is pretty damn creative behind the camera, and with this being the only movie under his belt, he puts a sizeable portion of other directors out there to shame.
At the core of it all, Still is about one man’s insatiable thirst for revenge inevitably getting the best of him, filled with captivating performances from Aidan Gillen and Amanda Mealing, and surprisingly sublimely directed by a first-timer named Simon Blake. It may be a predictably tragic tale, but the humanity and lifelike execution of the story are enough to set the film apart from similar experiences.
Not only is Still an intense look at a father's tragic descent into madness over losing his son, but it's also a surprisingly, extremely competent film from first-time director Simon Blake.