Eaten By Lions, 2018.
Directed by Jason Wingard.
Starring Antonio Aakeel, Jack Carroll, Asim Chaudhry, Johnny Vegas.
After the death of their beloved Gran, stepbrothers Omar and Pete swap Bradford for Blackpool in search of Omar’s biological father.
Depending on how hungry you’ve been for the weekend of hefty feline visual feasting we’ve just had, it will either come as a roaring relief or a stampede of disappointment to learn that no lions actually appear in Eaten By Lions.
That’s not to say their presence is totally absent, however. An early news bulletin discloses the titular event: an unfortunate fate befalling the parents of the film’s young protagonists, uterine-brothers Omar (Antonio Aakeel) and Pete (Jack Carroll). But the initial parental gobbling — reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s carnivorous Rhino in James and the Giant Peach — is hardly the entrée of Jason Wingard’s quirky sea side comedy.
Instead, it is merely a flavour of the zany seasoning Wingard lathers atop his sophomore feature film. With their parents dead, orphans Omar and Pete are taken in by their darling Gran (Stephanie Fayerman). Under her care, the boys grow close, but when she too sadly passes away (albeit under far less furry circumstances), the siblings are whisked off to their aunt and uncle’s house. There, the youngsters’ experiences are drastically different. For Pete, it’s a home. For Omar, it’s little more than a cupboard under the stairs with carers who appear only interested in adopting a nephew with cerebral palsy rather than one of Indian heritage. As a result, he leaves for Blackpool with Pete in the hope of connecting with his estranged father. But despite sun and sea, things are far from straightforward.
Familiarity follows the pair on their trip up the motorway, packed with ideas that are far from innovative. Taking a bite at everything from culture clashes, disability and xenophobia, Wingard explores a whole host of recognisable themes as the boys’ desperate search for a sense of belonging inevitably leads them to learn what — and indeed, who — is most important to them. But, despite its rudimentary narrative arc, and some rather unnecessary, unironed sub-plotting, little can distract from the all-round good nature of Eaten By Lions. Its heart is always beating in exactly the right place, and, while occasionally uneven, the film’s juggling of humour and emotion makes this coastal comedy both warm and affecting; both simple and wildly over the top.
Great fun is also had with Wingard’s playful attentiveness to setting. Blackpool, with its neon lights, eccentric pier-side fortune tellers and ‘Rulex’ watches, is undeniably tacky; but is, most importantly, made endearing by its most appealing attraction: its people. From drag queens to a suitably seedy hotel owner played by Johnny Vegas, there’s real colourful character here: a far cry from the drab, directionless existence Omar and Pete are looking to escape from.
But, ironically in a film with a big cat in the title, it’s the film’s central canine metaphor — one of a wolf and a dog — that is its most effective feature. Occasionally landing a tad too on the nose, it is commendable that Wingard and co-writer David Isaac’s allegorical avenue into the notion of identity rarely feels forced. Instead, the pair cleverly weave their idea with a deliberate fluidity that, at times, places Omar as the wolf — the untamed, roaming outcast — and Pete as the dog — the hapless pup; loved and cared for. At other times, such roles are reversed. Crucially, the point being made is that Omar and Pete are both different and the same: two well-meaning souls united by the bonds of brotherhood. And it’s here where Eaten By Lions‘ claws dig deepest.
A delightfully, and distinctively, British comedy, complete with outdated guesthouses, 2p arcade machines and awkward humour, Eaten By Lions might not have you howling with laughter; but Wingard’s tale of dog and wolf will most certainly leave you with a smile on your face. As it turns out, fur and fangs have their part to play, after all.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
George Nash is a freelance film journalist. Follow him on Twitter via @_Whatsthemotive for movie musings, puns and cereal chatter.