Monday, January 21, 2008


“The germ of the idea that became The Living and The Dead comes from the trauma of having to watch my mother die of cancer. She was diagnosed in December of 2001 and by March 2002 was dead (somewhat perversely she died on Mother's Day). It came completely out of the blue and happened three months after my father died of a heart attack so it was a tough time; not least because for the first couple of months there always seemed hope that she might make a recovery. Specifically, I remember looking at my aunt who was also caring for my mum but looked severely ill as well (she had sciatica—a backbone disorder) and thinking I was the living in the home of the dead.
“In true authorial fashion I immediately thought
The Living in The Home of The Dead was a great title for a film and started writing something to try to distract me from the horrific reality of my life at that point. I failed dismally to do this, lacking the concentration and the will, but almost six months after my mum's death, felt it would be a good thing to focus on and so tried writing it again. As it was, it still took me four months to complete the first draft which is way longer than anything else I've ever written, but by the end of December, I at least had a script.”
-- Simon Rumley

Donald (Roger Lloyd-Pack, who played Barty Crouch in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is actually the Lord Brocklebank, aristocracy who’s hit upon some hard times. He lives in the massive and rambling Longleigh House on the family estate with his ill, bedridden wife Nancy (Kate Fahy) and his mentally challenged son James (Leo Bill, Pvt. Jones from 28 Days Later).
Their filial routine is one of pills and injections, as Donald tries to keep from having to sell the manor, while James constantly tries to prove himself trustworthy and capable. Things go from bad to worse though when Donald needs to take a business trip, and leaves before Nurse Mary (Sarah Ball) arrives to take over.
What follows is a harrowing cinematic experience as James settles into his self-appointed role of Man of the House, while his da is away.

Now, while that set-up makes no mention whatever of psycho slashers or vengeful contortionist ghosts, make no mistake, Simon Rumley’s The Living and The Dead is a horror movie (or at the very least, can certainly be taken as one). It just trades in the gore and the modern-day curses for the all-too real terrors of mental and physical infirmity.
It’s an 83-minute immersion into a world where the burden of caregiver is a crushing, overwhelming weight, made all the more considerable in light of Donald’s sense of pride and denial regarding his situation. Entombed in a vast, empty manor, with sheeted furniture and peeling wallpaper, the only link to the outside world, a ratty old rotary telephone, Donald goes about the day-to-day with a stoic manner that seems to be oblivious to the fact that this is an accident just waiting to happen.
And when things go wrong in this film, they just go horribly, horribly awry.

With an 18-day shooting schedule, and a weighty script that rests firmly on the shoulders of three principals, who take up some 90% of the film’s screen time, skilled and able thespians are required for the heavy lifting, and thankfully, Lloyd-Pack, Fahy, and Bill are more than up to the task.
And while Bill is undoubtedly the actor most lauded in this production, given his portrayal of the troubled James, Lloyd-Pack‘s and Fahy‘s contributions are no less significant, and just as agonizing to view.
They are the three citizens of this tortured kingdom, the audience’s companions in a land where all will end in betrayal, where nothing can be trusted or depended upon, not even your body or your mind.

If it hasn’t already become painfully obvious, The Living and The Dead is not an easy film to watch. It’s disquieting and uncomfortable, two of the things horror is supposed to be.
I could say that cinematographer Milton Kam makes the most of the single location, heightening the sense of emptiness and abandonment with just the right angles and framing. I could say that Benjamin Putland‘s editing also heightens the pervasive sense of sanity trickling away from all involved in this domestic tableau gone to hell. I could also say that writer/director Rumley has crafted a powerful tale of tragedy and madness, and is definitely a name to watch for in the future.
I could say all of that, and I wouldn’t be lying.

But I’d need to say this too, if only to make it clear just what you’re about to get into, if you do decide to brave this one.
If The Living and The Dead is to be taken as a horror movie, it’s certainly not an entertaining horror movie (and there are those, even when they have substantial and significant subtext in the midst of all the scares and the grue); I don’t think it was meant to be one.
It prickles and rankles, and doesn’t offer much in the way of grace notes. It’s also relentless. Not in the Hollywood octane action thriller sense of the word, but in a locked-in-a-house-with-a-madman-where’s-the-key-oh-no-it’s-in-his-pocket sense of the word.
And it just makes it all the worse that the madman in question isn’t some sick psycho intruder, but a family member who just wants to be normal.

So, yes, The Living and The Dead is a brilliant movie, horror or otherwise.
It’s just not for everyone.

Parting shot: The quote which kicks off this review is part of Rumley’s extensive notes for The Living and The Dead, which can be found in their entirety at his website,

(The Living and The Dead OS courtesy of; images courtesy of, except image 4, courtesy of TLA Releasing and

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