This debut feature from British writer/director Brian Welsh tells the story of Suzy Jackson, struggling to adapt to life back at home after an extended tour of Iraq. Her daughter Cass barely recognises her at first, and her husband seems mostly interested in relinquishing his enforced celibacy as quickly as possible. It’s dedicated to the hundreds of returned soldiers currently serving time in Britain’s prisons, and studies the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder both short term and long term (in the case of her husband Mark) of front line soldiers returning to their loved ones.
The performances are exceptional, particularly Joanne Froggatt as Suzy, haunted by the image of an Iraqi child for whose death she feels responsible. Unable to relate to her increasingly angry and paranoid husband, it’s a story she tells instead to a class full of children during a ‘work experience’ school visit. As Suzy begins to focus her feelings of guilt on her daughter, she exaggerates the everyday threats of her neighbourhood and it’s residents, turning her home into something of a fortress to protect her daughter from an unknown enemy.
Her husband, meanwhile, is convinced that her refusal to sleep with him is down to her having had an affair with another soldier. He has little sympathy for her increasing paranoia, telling her to simply deal with it, but as someone who’s clearly followed his own advice he’s a picture of bottled up rage and violence, ready to erupt at the slightest provocation. Suzy’s later discovery of images of dead bodies from Iraq, in which her husband is grinning and posing, show him revelling in a violence from which she’s repulsed. This comes to the fore during a brilliantly menacing scene in the back of a taxi between Mark and the Pakistani driver, the consequent beating dished out initially by Suzy and taken too far by Mark is recorded on his phone, and as he gets kicks out of watching it back it’s hard not to think of similar images from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
The sound design creates an air of dread and menace, aided by an excellent haunting score, I just wish it had taken a bit more time in telling it’s story. Suzy’s descent into paranoia and unfocussed rage tends to serve the plot mechanics rather than her character, and her discovery that the images she’s desperate to forget have infiltrated her home through her near-psychotic husband feels more like a convenient plot device. Refreshingly though, Welsh does exercise restraint with the use of flashback, hazy undefined images take the place of anything more obvious and easy.
That’s not to say it’s not well directed. Individual scenes crackle with tension, and the use of 35mm is a welcome change from the grimy digital aesthetic this type of film would usually attract. It’s an important issue, mostly well explored and handled, but the temptation to frame it as a thriller rather than a more subtle character study is one quickly succumbed to, particularly in the final sequences involving her daughter and a gun Suzy’s stolen from her barracks. It’s certainly gripping however, and the performances and assured direction elevate it from the home it would normally find on Sunday night TV.
In Our Name - 2010 - United Kingdom - 90 mins - Dir : Brian Welsh
In Our Name is screening as part of the New British Cinema Strand at the London Film Festival on Friday 15th & Sunday 17th October. Tickets available at www.bfi.org.uk/lff