One capital “A”, seven lower-case “a”s, one lower-case “h”, and an exclamation mark. It’s important that you get it right because on the face of it, it’s an awesome title for a horror film, instantly reminiscent of some piece of lurid 1970s Eurotrash exploitation dubbed and retitled for the American market. The organisers at FrightFest must have been delighted when they first read that title in some batch of submissions; but I wonder whether the cinema didn’t disgorge a horde of disappointed horror fans after it screened, because it isn’t a horror film at all but rather a satirical black comedy.
Picture London, where life goes on much as usual – or much as it usually does on EastEnders – except everyone’s gone ape. They’re not wearing low-quality Planet of the Apes suits; indeed, since they’re all high-quality British talent like Julian Barratt, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Toyah Wilcox, there’d be no point in covering up their faces and anyway, the film is supposed to show a more-or-less recognisably human society populated and propagated by people with the manners of apes, who shit and piss and fight and vomit and masturbate. Do you see what they’re saying there? You’d have to be fairly slow not to. There was a fantastic Channel 4 sitcom, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, purportedly a medical drama/science-fiction/horror show conceived in the 80s by hack writer Garth Marenghi, whose episode “The Apes of Wrath” saw the hospital staff turning into apes and causing havoc: “I know writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards. OK? What I was asking in that scene is, what if politicians continue to pay doctors peanuts? Could they literally turn into monkeys? And no-one’s asked that before.” Funnily enough, Noel Fielding – who has a small rôle here – had a blast in that episode as the main ape, and Julian Barratt played the (human) Padre with parodic intensity.
So it’s funny that Barratt and Fielding – best known for their surrealist sitcom The Mighty Boosh – chose to do-over the whole concept, except this time dead straight. To be clear: the Darkplace episode didn’t derive its humour from funny apes per se, but from the fact its pretentious writer thought funny apes were a bold way of holding up a mirror to our own society. This film is comedy, too – after a certain Absurdist fashion – but it takes itself just as seriously as does the deluded Marenghi. It’s one of those “message” movies where you find yourself simply rolling your eyes, because you’ve picked up, digested, and gotten over the seriously satirical social message long before the film has. So gratuitous is its insistence on its own importance – flinging it around like a monkey with poop – that you’ll actively want to disagree with what it’s saying, just to distance yourself from it. Fortunately, that’s easily done: in writer/director Steve Oram’s insistent refusal that any human qualities place raise us above the merely animalistic, he conveniently neglects poetry, philosophy, medicine, love, and mercy. Eighty minutes of fucking and shitting and boozing doesn’t leave you sharing the miserable outlook of Oram, but rather reminds you how miraculous it is that we don’t resemble this ugly fantasy.
And it is an ugly fantasy, to be clear, not only in its sophomoric misanthropy, but in its execution. That there is no dialogue save for grunts and shrieks is a given, and to be fair, a genuinely bold move. But the director and his cast seem anxious that that lack of dialogue not make the film too inaccessible, and thus telegraph their characters’ thoughts and motivations so blatantly that it’s actually worse than the worst expositional dialogue. A similar anxiety that the love triangle that provides the loose main plot could be underwhelming seems to be what gives rise to the myriad sketches that punctuate it. But since the movie’s far too strange to ever play to multiplexes, or on BBC Three, who cares about alienating audiences? It seems like it was designed to alienate anyway, not just with its anti-everything anger, but also its transgressivism – witness a character masturbate with a mouse! Do apes even do that? – and its quick-and-nasty digital look.
By the way, it’s offensive to apes, too, who are really much wiser, gentler and subtler creatures than the film gives them credit. Watch Koko, A Talking Gorilla instead, and you’ll actually learn something, whereas this misanthropic, misogynist, misandrist, anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, anti-Establishment soap opera says very little to me about the world in which I live, and if it really does say something to Oram about his world, then all I can do is pity him – but it doesn’t improve this tedious, angry film.
Aaaaaaaah! is released on VOD in the UK from October 19th through FrightfestPresents. Will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!