GORE IN THE STORE
THE SHOW ***
Directed by Mitch Jenkins.
Starring Tom Burke, Siobhan Hewlett, Darrell D’Silva, Alan Moore.
Fantasy, UK, 115 minutes.
Reviewed as part of Arrow Video FrightFest 2021
The first shot of THE SHOW sweeps through the stars while classical music swells on the soundtrack, zooming into Earth past the clouds and blue skies and finally settles down to focus on a dark puddle in Northampton. The metaphysical properties of the cosmos and the grit and concrete of “the centre of England” are closely intertwined in comic book mastermind Alan Moore’s debut as a feature length screenwriter with this film that carries on a storyline from three previous short films made in collaboration with director Mitch Jenkins. In THE SHOW the nondescript town is at the centre of a complicated plot involving missing Rosicrucian jewellery, vaudeville comedians, masked internet vigilantes, dreams within dreams and old gods playing the ukulele.
Tom Burke, whose spiky black hair and red and black stripy top may or may not be intentionally reminiscent of a certain British comic book character from The Beano, plays a mysterious figure who drifts into Northampton looking for a certain James Mitchum. From this simple inciting plotline, we are immediately launched into a surreal take on private eye fiction with all of the elements mentioned above and a whole lot more. Dreams within dreams, drug dealing voodoo gangsters, glimpses of alternative realities and foppish pop stars also make appearances in a storyline that soon becomes complicated and convoluted enough as if it seems that the writer and director are enjoying themselves at the expense of the audience trying to keep up with them and the sheer number of ideas and plots, they throw on the screen.
For the most part THE SHOW is entertains with its intriguing elements carried across by its funny script. With his foreboding appearance and dark fiction people often forget that Moore has always been a dab hand at comedy, whether it was writing the classic strip DR & Quinch for 2000AD or his self-deprecating turn on The Simpsons promoting the Watchmen Babies In V For Vacation. His instinct for comedy has always been underrated and it is given free reign here with a near constant barrage of dialogue that is in turns deadpan and surreal. That it is delivered at the right tone is credit to Jenkin’s direction of the actors who for the most part nail what is being aimed for here.
Burke makes for an interesting protagonist learning of the otherworldly nature of his task along with the audience while the majority of oddball figures he encounters, junior private eyes and vampiric hospital porters among them, manage to achieve the tightrope act of staying on just the right side of absurdity. Others however descend into wide eyed, shouting performances that veer into tiresome camp, most notably in a courtroom set dream scene that seems a victim of an overstretched and limited budget.
Many of Moore’s obsessions are on display here; the occult, dreams and even H.P. Lovecraft getting a couple of mentions. As a director Jenkins seems an ideal collaborator in trying to bring them to the screen as best as he can. Whether it is a case of budgetary limitations or struggling to keep up with his writer THE SHOW comes across as more of a well-meaning exercise in bringing Moore’s obsession with his hometown and its atmosphere to the screen. Sadly, none of that is accomplished onscreen here with Jenkins presenting it as nondescript and quite ordinary. That it is also continuing a complicated storyline from three previous short films and seems to be setting up more by the end of this film could turn viewers away looking for something more accessible. For Moore completists this could be counted as essential viewing but for those unfamiliar with him it may come across as an exercise in surrealism with obscure nods to its cult writer that will leave them scratching their heads finding themselves as interested and they are infuriated.