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Stitches (18) - Director/Actor Q&A
Vue, West End
25th October 2012

★★☆☆☆

Richard "Stitches" Grindle obviously hadn't heard of the expression 'Never work with children or animals' when he embarked on a career of clowning. Bitter, grumpy and not particularly talented, he's not a natural choice for a children's entertainer. When a bad gig goes very wrong indeed, Stitches finds himself in red nose limbo, waiting for an opportunity to exact revenge on the (now teenage) brats who accidentally killed him. Enter Tommy Knight from The Sarah Jane Adventures fame.

The film has the occasional whiff of the brilliant Shaun of the Dead, but the gross-out factor has been misjudged and ramped up too high. There are some funny moments, but there's never a frightening atmosphere. Stitches is less of a horror-comedy than a horrible-comedy, with balloon animals fashioned out of human innards and other similarly daftly gory scenes, with the same character we've seen played out in Psychoville's Mr Jelly or Stephen King's Pennywise.

Director and co-writer Conor McMahon may be the laid back sort, but there is some very precise editing. Seemingly unrelated scenes are juxtaposed to create laughs. Party music about 'dying in your arms' is allowed to linger in an immediately following scene, where Stitches cradles one of his victims. Every cut is deliberate.

There is also plenty of foreshadowing, proving that despite McMahon and Ross Noble's protestations to the contrary in the Q&A session presided over by BBC6 Music's Shaun Keaveny, there was a lot of planning involved. This film has a very limited target audience, but that's not to say that cast and crew haven't tried to pull out all the stops for that niche following. As well as the careful editing, many of the little touches that McMahon and Noble dismiss as casually improvised, such as a tricycle pursuit with Stitches, actually work really well and deliver some of the more successful moments.

The two men clearly have a great rapport and if McMahon could be persuaded to drop his fascination with the undead and move into pure comedy, it would be good to see them work together again. Some of Noble's lines, delivered deadpan, didn't get the chuckles they should have done and it's probably because far too much weight was put on the special effects and blood.

Knight delivers a solid performance as reformed brat Tommy, who after watching a clown die on his birthday (and largely being to blame) grew up into an awkward teenager with far more friends than you would expect, given his uneasy demeanour. Essentially, Knight reprises his role of Sarah Jane's Luke Smith, this time anxiety medication explaining his actions, rather than being grown to puberty in a laboratory. There may be very little hint of versatility, but he plays what he knows well and manages to come across as vaguely likeable.

As for Noble himself, perhaps surprisingly, he fails to get the laughs in a few places (please, always let a stand up write his own jokes, it's cheaper and you get better results), but his acting is pretty decent. His big screen debut does show promise.

If you're not a teenage boy, you may find this film a bit difficult to stomach. And if you have a teenage boy, I suspect you won't want him to watch it. Stitches is actually not bad for a film of its genre, but with such a limited appeal, it's perhaps no wonder that a DVD release date has already been set for mid February. It will undoubtedly find a following there, even if the aforementioned teenagers don't get it before Halloween.

Stitches was released in the UK on 25th October 2012 and is set to be released on DVD on 11th February 2012.

Nearest stop: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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