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This Is Not a Love Song (2002)

Directed by:

Bille Eltringham

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 88 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United Kingdom

Lonely, taciturn squaddie Heaton (Kenny Glenaan) picks up his younger, more impulsive friend Spike (Michael Colgan) from prison, and takes him on a drive into the countryside outside Glasgow. When their stolen car runs out of petrol (with ‘This Is Not a Love Song’ by P.I.L playing on the stereo), they head to a nearby farm, where an unfortunate encounter with the owner Arthur (John Henshaw) ends in Spike, before he quite knows what he is doing, committing murder. Although Heaton’s first instinct is to walk away, he stands by his traumatised friend, unwilling to see him back in prison, and the two flee together onto the moor. Soon they realise that a posse of local farmers, led by Mr Bellamy (David Bradley), is hunting them down, and when Heaton’s leg is injured in the chase, the two men’s rôles reverse and it is Spike’s turn to decide whether he is as loyal to Heaton as to himself.

On September 5th, 2003, ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ became the first feature film ever to have a simultaneous release online and in cinemas (see www.thisisnotalovesong.com). Thanks in no small part to the media buzz that came with this groundbreaking method of distribution, ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ did phenomenally well, receiving 100,000 hits in its opening weekend, even though it was the kind of UK film – low-budget, shot entirely on Digital Video, and with a very small cast – that might just as easily have slipped way beneath the radar.

Yet even if it was a canny marketing campaign that first allowed ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ to enter the public’s consciousness, it is the film’s own qualities that keep it there. Its plot, though more than competently handled by director Bille ‘The Darkest Light’ Eltringham, is already familiar enough from films like ‘Deliverance’, ‘Straw Dogs’, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and ‘Southern Comfort’, wherein city boys find themselves fighting for their lives against the inhospitable menace of country folk. Yet where ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ really strikes new ground is in the sexual longing which Heaton harbours for Spike, the love which (in such a machismo-driven character) dare not speak its name, in a film whose very title neatly thematises denial. The film’s events are regularly punctuated by Heaton’s voice-over as he reads aloud the letters that he can never quite bring himself to send to Spike in prison, letters full of agonising loneliness and awkward despair, where everything is between the lines.

Unable to give free expression to their feelings, instead the pair explore the outer limits of friendship and loyalty in an acceptably masculine mode (even if, right from the rape scene in ‘Deliverance’, this is a genre which has proved surprisingly amenable to anxieties about homosexuality). The only female character (Keri Arnold) to intrude on the film’s strange men-only idyll is summarily removed from the picture, the two fugitives are soon huddling close together for warmth, each gets to demonstrate just how far he will go for the other – and even the landscape itself, with its muddy quagmires, dark crevasses and sealed holes, seems to bristle with homoerotic possibility. So while this may not be your bogstandard love story, nor is it exactly a conventional thriller.

It's Got: A script by Simon The Full Monty Beaufoy that is all about unspoken nuances; two central performances that combine rugged naturalism with erotic intensity; and Robbie Ryans cinematography making the moors, woodlands and rivers of Aberfoyle look more menacing (and in the trip sequence, more purple) than ever before.

It Needs: Not to be dismissed merely as a standard Deliverance-style thriller (although it is that as well).

DVD Extras Aspect ratio 1.85:1 (Anamorphic); Making of This is Not a Love Song (28min); theatrical trailer. Version reviewed: This Is Not A Love Song (Soda Pictures). DVD Extras Rating: 3/10

Alternatives:

Calvaire, Dead Mans Shoes, Deliverance, Southern Comfort

Summary

An unusual Scottish thriller in which erotic tensions are forever kept below the surface.

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