Storage 24 (UK, 2012); Dir. Johannes Roberts
Well, it finally happened: I got to see a Johannes Roberts film at my local cinema. If somebody had told me this when I sat shaking my head in dismay at the singular incompetence of Sanitarium I wouldn't have credited it. Hopefully it's not the end of the journey but he appears to have arrived somewhere.
Storage 24 is a nuts and bolts sci-fi exploitation movie. The premise is a simple one: a US cargo plane has crashed somewhere in London, possibly shot down, for reasons unknown. Part of the wreckage has landed in the grounds of the titular secure storage warehouse, including a mysterious container which has broken open, releasing a nasty monster which seeks refuge in the building.
It also causes a power failure, meaning that those who happen to venture inside - including Noel Clarke, the girlfriend he's just acrimoniously split from and attendant friends - find themselves trapped in there with the beast.
We've seen it all many times before of course, from The Thing From Another World onwards. Like a number of Jo's films the debt to John Carpenter (Assault on Precinct Thirteen, The Thing) in particular is clear, indeed his last film F (reviewed on this blog last year) was built around the same conceit of characters being picked off and dismembered by mysterious assailants.
Perhaps surprising then that for the first time (to my recollection) he wasn't directing from one of his own scripts but that of star and producer Noel Clarke, although I do wonder how much rewriting may have been done during development.
Clarke is an interesting leading man and indeed an interesting figure on the British film scene. He may not be the most talented actor or writer out there, nor for that matter a conventionally attractive one, but he goes about his business with conviction and good humour and most importantly gets films made.
If I had one particular criticism to make of him though it's that he didn't exert more influence on the film's bland casting; it's not that I don't believe a black man would have a white girlfriend and best friend but it would have been nice to see another black face or two in there. Maybe it was a sop to the film's financiers who felt there was risk enough having a black star without adding more colour.
Another shortcoming is the film's monster. I was nervous when I heard Johannes and Noel mention in interviews how they'd made a point of making the creature more conspicuous than in similar films (e.g. Alien), although intrigued when comparisons were drawn with the Marvel Comics character Venom. If by that they meant it would evoke the worst excesses of nineties comics then I'm afraid they're right.
And yet despite these weaknesses Storage 24 is an effective and enjoyable effort. There's no pretension to it; this is a film that knows it's a B movie and that the priority is to deliver thrills and gore. We've got a fairly good idea what's going to happen right from the outset, but like The Thing, Alien or countless inferior films the very concept exploits the vicarious appeal of cinema - like the characters we're sealed in for the duration.
One aspect I would have liked to see made more of were the hints of what's going on in the outside world while this drama unfolds, but in fairness that might undermine the final twist.
It probably reveals something of Universal's modesty of ambitions for the film that they've released it up against one of the summer's big movies (The Amazing Spider-Man). Sure enough there were less than a dozen in the audience when I saw it and although Epsom is hardly a cultural barometer most likely Storage 24 will have to wait until its dvd release to do any serious business. Which perhaps makes Roberts and Clarke's talk in interviews of a possible sequel seem a mite optimistic.
Still, stranger things have happened and while I think I preferred F's relative originality this is time well spent.