Fantasia 2012: ‘Black Pond’ shines the spotlight on dark humour

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Black Pond

Directed by Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe

Written by Will Sharpe

U.K., 2011

Comedy, in its nature and its presentation, has morphed dramatically over the past decade or so, both in North America and in Europe, in particular the United Kingdom. From the more overt, on the nose comedy of yesteryear we have now live in an era in which the comedy is delivered with a completely different version of wit. Jokes can be extremely situational or rely on dialogue delivered in manners which presume to be subtle but at the same are not really subtle at all. Even the stories which writers and directors have shared in the past few years have experienced with new framing devices. Oftentimes the films and television shows present them in a way so as to replicate the documentary style, hence the stories carry a degree of believability all the while the characters within them embrace their eccentricities. Black Pond, from the directing duo of Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe, adapts this very technique.

The film depicts the story of one family, the Thompson family, at two very different stages in its life. There are faux interviews with the father, Tom (Chris Langham), the mother Sophie (Amanda Hadingue), the the two daughters Katie and Jess (Anna O’Grady and Helen Cripps respectively) and their common friend, Tim Tanaka (co-director Will Sharpe) after a trying episode in their collective lives when the group as a whole was accused of murdering a kind, if emotionally volatile and slightly disconnected man, Blake (Colin Hurley) in the Black Pond region. Inter-cut between the brief interview snippets is the depiction of how the family came to meet Blake, how they came to love him, and, finally, what exactly led to his demise one very strange night. Clearly, the Thompson’s were not the happiest family, with the daughters living away together in the city, uninterested in the increasingly strained relationship between their parents. Tim, in fact, visited a hack psychologist (Simon Amstell) for a while to relieve himself of some murky emotional turmoil, although the self-described professional only scoffs at Tim’s internal battle. Despite these qualms, the inimitable Blake did bring them all together again for a short while…

In continuation on the topics presented in the article’s introductory paragraph, Black Pond is the sort of film for which the comedy is presented as realistically as possible, via a cinematic aesthetic imitating real life as faithfully as possible, all the while inviting the viewer to recognize, and it is not so difficult to recognize even, that most of the people who live and breath in this world are about as unrealistic and wildly off-kilter as can be. The two greatest examples one can use for comparison’s sake, even though a film is often best evaluated on its own terms, are shows and films like the American Arrested Development or the British In the Loop. The jokes, in part, deriving from fantastic lines of dialogue, come in fast yet not always so furiously. Sometimes even, the joke is less the actual line delivered but how it was delivered. The mere intonation of a character’s voice, who said something perfectly normal, makes the line in question comical, which was very much present in the other two aforementioned comedy productions. If one fails to award the movie his or her undivided attention, it would only play as half a comedy, for many of lines will merely slip in and out of their ears without creating the desired effect. Check your smartphone for the latest tweet while Tom murmurs to himself ‘Hmm, profound…’ as he reads his wife’s old amateur poetry and you have probably missed the real joke of the scene.

Pitch perfect line delivery requires proper guidance from the director, or directors as is the case here, but equally competent acting skills. There is nary a false performer in the bunch, with each actor injecting a unique, neatly defined individuality to their respective roles. Quirk is, understandably, the name of the game in the case of Black Pond, however Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley make certain to never have their characters venture too deeply in such treacherous territory. Too much and the film risks losing its audience because the possible connectivity between characters and the audience is lost. The actors, while adept at dialling up the eccentric tones to an extent, reign it in whenever necessary, thus preserving that precious sense of believability. Chris Langham is the standout, as he not only plays the the part of Chris with some gentle buffoonery but with genuine sadness once the family dog, simply named ‘Boy,’ passes away. From one moment to the next the movie depicts how strange and how real these people are. As for pure comedic effect, the greatest scenes are those involving Tim’s visits to the psychologist Eric Sacks, with the latter constantly turning whatever Tim reveals about himself on its head for no greater purpose than, apparently, because he thinks Tim’s life is a joke. He even makes fun of the name ‘Tim’ in a way that shall remain a secret, but rest assured it is absolutely hysterical.

What also merits recognition is the care with which the actual story is told, most notably its character-driven core about the Thompson family members reuniting together once their dog has passed away and subsequently committing what they all deem to be an act of love towards Blake, their unorthodox, lovable and strange guest. It is clear that the family unit has fallen part along the years, with either disinterest or vague hostility hovering over them. The discomforting emotions the topic of themselves bring up are brought to screen nicely. The story’s conclusion comes together with a surprising amount of grace given the pervasive mocking tone which has inhabited the picture up until that point. Black Pond has no intentions of telling the audience that all is well within the household by the end. It understands that some wounds are more difficult to mend than others, requiring more time and effort than a singular common denominating event, but there is a conscious effort in having the audience believe that, for the first time in what one assumes is a long time, each member of the Thompson family (and Tim) worked together in unison, believing deeply, for good or ill, in the same goal. Nothing grandiose, but a nice little wrap up to the story.

Audiences perceptive enough to appreciate the dark humour and ‘subtle but also unsubtle’ comedic value which makes the film what it is stand great chances of walking away completely satisfied. As the saying goes, this movie is not for everyone. One will not find anything happy per say while visiting Black Pond, but the stay will prove memorable nevertheless.

-Edgar Chaput

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