Director: A.D. Barker
Starring: Leslie Simpson, Axelle Carolyn
I was recently lucky enough to watch an excellent little independent movie called A Reckoning. Directed by first time filmmaker A.D. Barker it was previously called Straw Man.
It is a film full of sublime melancholy and follows the plight of one man played with great effect by Leslie Simpson (Dog Soldiers, The Descent).
The man or Man, as he will henceforth be called, lives all alone in a barren, dilapidated warren of buildings. Everyone else appears to be dead and he has fashioned figures out of straw to keep him company. Is he the last man on Earth after some terrible apocalyptic event or is he just a disturbed homeless man living in isolation? You never find out why he is all alone, but that makes it all the more delicious to watch.
He fills his time with routine, getting dressed in a suit and walking the short distance to a school where the straw pupils sit in silence as he reads to them from various books. Maybe he was a teacher before whatever happened. The Man also regularly makes a break for what lies over the horizon, but always returns back to the surroundings he is most used to. A prisoner of his own mind, but every attempt sees him go that little bit further.
Obviously mentally disturbed (who wouldn’t be in that situation), he has conversations with the straw people who surround them, but begins to hallucinate. Hooded figures lurk in dark corridors, swings in a playground move as if a child has just finished playing and a beautiful, ethereal woman or angel (Axelle Carolyn – Centurion, Doomsday, Psychosis) brings some brightness to his otherwise empty existence.
Through voice over we listen into his desperate plight to keep the slight shred of sanity he has left and you cannot help but follow him on his journey to nowhere.
Beautifully filmed it gives the austere locations a haunting loveliness. When the moves out of the claustrophobic confines of his home we are greeted with gorgeously shot big skies full of colourful sunsets which bring freedom to both the viewer and the Man. I particularly liked the shots of the Man in the snow walking to who knows where and leaving a marker to show how far his futile attempt went.
As Leslie Simpson is on screen for the whole of the running time the film lives or dies on his performance. I can safely say it lives and breathes. Barely speaking except when in the classroom or through voiceover, he conveys oceans of emotion through the slightest movement of his eyes or tile of his head. You feel the pain and madness of the Man all told through some superb acting by Mr Simpson.
This being a first film there are of course a few faults. The voice over could be trimmed down a little in places and some may feel that the running time is a little long.
However, I have seen my share of films by first time filmmakers. May are truly dreadful and painful to watch. A Reckoning, on the other hand, gripped me from the opening frame and shows that A.D. Barker is a filmmaker to be reckoned with. I look forward to whatever film he makes next and Leslie Simpson should simply be in more movies. I also think he would make a cracking Doctor Who.
For those who like to compare films to those that I have come before I would say it A Reckoning has been influenced by works such as The Quiet Earth, The Omega Man, The Wicker Man, and Waiting for Godot.
Sadly I am not sure whether you will ever be able to see A Reckoning as I have heard that there are problems behind the scenes. I do hope they can be worked out because it would be shame if this film didn’t see the light of day. When it eventually does be sure to catch it.