I won't pretend that I understood every word that was spoken in "Diary of a Bad Lad," a raw, intense film with lively performances and in your face camera work about a frustrated film maker named Barry Lick who sets out to make a documentary centered on a local businessman he believes to be involved in a variety of illegal transactions ranging from prostitution and property rackets to drugs and pornography.
The businessman, whom Lick names Ray Topham to protect his identity, is surrounded by such associates as his local cocaine supplier and an S&M actress named Joanne Miller and his security associate, the gloriously evil Tommy Morghen. Rather quickly, everyone involved in the film quickly catches on that Lick is in over his head and set out to take advantage of his ignorance, often with both funny and tragic results.
What happens in the end?
You'll have to check it out for yourself.
A product of the ever so slight no-budget filmmaking movement in Northern U.K., "Diary of a Bad Lad" takes its low-budget and makes it work with a faux documentary style that is unnerving, unsettled yet hypnotic to watch. While there's no denying the film's modest production budget holds it back just a bit, more often than not director Michael Booth makes it work with fantastic results that are equally disturbing and unforgettable.
Even as a bloody American film critic who couldn't quite grasp the meaning of every word spoken, I found myself hanging on every word of virtually every character in the film, a testimony to screenwriter Jonathan Williams' ability to create complex, multi-layered characters out of even his supporting characters. So, too, Booth gives each character ample screen time to bring their personalities to life and make us hate them or, well, hate them.
There are films that you refer to as dark comedy, and then there are films that are pure, unabashed jet black comedy. "Diary of a Bad Lad" is a jet black comedy, a no-holds-barred example of what we Americans might call guerilla film making that would be right at home in virtually any underground film festival in any part of the world.
The film rests on the solid acting shoulders of Joe O'Byrne as Tommy Morghen, a man so deliciously evil that you'll want to invite him over to dinner but you'll make sure your weapon is fully loaded before you do. Similarly, screenwriter Jonathan Williams does double duty in portraying the film maker, Barry Lick, a man who is either completely and utterly clueless or he isn't.
One is never completely sure.
Beautifully lensed by Paul Gordon with stellar musical accompaniment by Simon Auster, "Diary of a Bad Lad" is a prime example of the innovative, uniquely imagined films being brought to life in the vibrant world of independent film. Here's hoping that that "Diary of a Bad Lad" opens doors for its entire cast and crew and, as well, for other underground U.K. filmmakers.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic