Directed by Andrew Tiernan.
Starring Shona McWilliams, Ian Hart, Jean-Marc Barr, Jack Roth, Tim Bentinck, and Jason Williamson.
A documentary film-maker suspects she is being brainwashed by a secret government organisation.
Set in a not-so-distant, not-so-unrecognisable dystopian future, Andrew Tiernan’s faux surrealist documentary makes the case that conspiracy theorists were right all along, and the government really is trying to brainwash us.
UK18 follows Eloise, a Scottish documentary-maker living in an outer-inner-city suburb (probably London), as she films, compiles and edits a documentary on mysterious RFIDs, which are tiny government-issued chips designed to improve the lifestyle and wellbeing of the general population: from cashless transactions to the early detection and elimination of diseases like Alzheimer’s. What Eloise finds is that RFIDs are actually a method of population control, with criminals and the disabled mysteriously disappearing after being forced to take part in RFID trials. In alternative 2018, neoliberalism has mutated into neofascism and the working class is stuck under the thumb of a surveillance government that has abolished free speech. As Eloise uncovers more about the conspiracy through her interviews, she falls deeper into a cyclical state of paranoia, finally coming to believe that she herself has been brainwashed.
By its very nature, UK18 is confusing, because it plays upon the documentary genre to develop complex and contradictory narratives. The protagonist Eloise (film producer Shona McWilliams) spirals as she becomes more and more entrenched in the narratives of her interviewees, losing her grip on reality and becoming increasingly paranoid. The collagesque collection of interview clips, found footage, news clips and performance art exist together within the same space, and their allegorical meanings are often indecipherable. Stylistically, UK18 is a study in non-linear plotting, but it more often than not falls flat on its face with storytelling so convoluted that it makes no sense whatsoever, all the while giving off the aura that it is utterly overcome by its own brilliance. The result is a viewing experience which fluctuates from mind-numbingly dull to nauseatingly amateurish.
My particular qualms with UK18 extend from its unpleasant mish-mash of scenes and styles, to its appalling dialogue, which is performed by a cast of mostly white male faces (besides protagonist Eloise and a secondary character Kate, whose relationship to Eloise is never made entirely clear, played by the brilliant Nisha Nayar). The opening of the film touches briefly on stop and search policing and racial profiling with a black male character (Kobena Dadey), describing his experiences of stop and search. Besides Wayne Anthony and Sean Cernow, all other interviewees are white men, which becomes problematic when the only thing UK18 deals with in explicit terms is the oppression and subjugation of minorities and the working classes. These men – among them Ian Hart and Jack Roth – wax lyrical about a variety of injustices that have befallen them, part and parcel of a neoliberal government. Unfortunately nothing is ever discussed in concrete terms: the rhetoric is all ‘us’ and ‘them’ without ever resorting to fact or policy. These interviewees’ monologues thus become meaningless and repetitive (much like the overlong and overused time-lapse footage of skies transitioning over residential neighbourhoods), the majority of them adding no real substance to the film, while portraying the speakers as overwhelmingly self-centered and egotistical, traits I suspect are shared by the director.
What aches to be a manifesto for the working classes is instead caught between the too-many things it is trying to incorporate: experimental filmmaking, docu-drama, thriller, surrealism. UK18 does a lot of things, but it does none of them well, and the result is, bluntly put, a mess. The strands of story: government brainwashing, human tracking chips and resistance to neofascist ideology, all within the frame of Eloise’s documentary, do not interact with one another and there is no cohesive plot to speak of. On top of this, there is a clouded sub-plot involving Eloise’s disabled brother Ryan (Jamie Beddard) who she may or may not have murdered, and a man in a horned mask who visits Eloise while she sleeps, juxtaposed with pornographic imagery which is anchored by no context whatsoever.
The only redeeming feature of UK18 is its haunting and powerful score, by The Hackney Massive. Everything else is diatribe, and in the end, we never do find out what Eloise’s documentary is supposed to be about.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★