Alpha male Smith and his Beta, Keith, move to take over a local community. They hook up with restless female, Denise, igniting a deadly feud in which emotions run high and deep-seated grudges resurface amongst the tribe. Are we not men? Or are we simply beasts?
Who said nature documentaries were boring?
Whilst we have shed the majority of our body hair (ginger beard not included in this case) and bulked up the old grey matter, us humans are evolutionarily a lot closer to monkeys than we may care to consider. This is the lifeblood behind Steve Oram’s directorial debut, Aaaaaaaah! in which he creates a modern fission-fusion, technology-endowed society populated with monkey grunting humans to provide a painfully sharp commentary on the tendencies we still share with our primate cousins.
If ever a film was condemned to split audiences then it’s this one. This demented nature schlockumentary will have you either going “Aaaaaaaah!” as in the penny just dropped and I get exactly what’s going on here, or “Aaaaaaaah!” as in, “Whoa! What the hell did I just witness?” My initial “Aaaaaaaah!” reaction was the latter but, after letting it stew in my sensorium, the monkey magic in this unquestionably unique slice of cinema ultimately worked its spell on me.
Whilst it’s no secret that Oram’s main intention was to concoct an innovative albeit traditional love story, the film contains an abundance of social commentaries on human subsistence, hormonally influenced behaviour, family dynamics and self-preservation; something particularly tricky to pull off when employing dialogue made up entirely of unintelligible Cro-Magnon lingo. Regardless of the incessant grunting, Oram makes sure the gobbledygook never oversteps its mark and the actors really find their inner ape with their gestural repertoire solidly conveying every imaginable emotional state possible: anger, excitement, sexual arousal, terror, and a long list of etceteras. The leads are all remarkable in this sense, particularly Oram and Toyah Willcox in their respective alpha male and female roles and Lucy Honigman as every alpha’s desire, but it’s Julian Barratt who literally bares all in a remarkable performance as Jupiter, the recently ousted alpha male left to slum it in the garden with his Battenberg cake.
Whether intentionally or not, Aaaaaaaah! also sets up a curious and intriguing male/female dynamic. Whilst gender stereotypes are aplenty as the women slave in the kitchen and the men sit watching the telly with a beer or three, Oram brings an interesting primate attribute to the table when we get to see the female bonded ‘matrilines’ dominate the alpha male. Like I said, I’m not sure if this was intentional but it’s so much fun to see Oram’s macho monkey succumbing to Willcox and Honigman despite his obvious discomfiture.
Aaaaaaaah! takes some terrifying and gruesome turns along the way which, whilst few and far between, will more than cater for the more horror-oriented audiences out there but, for the most part, it’s clear that Oram was playing more for laughs rather than trying to terrify viewers. Accordingly, special effects artist Dan Martin deliberately opts for a decidedly low budget horror aesthetic and it wouldn’t have worked any other way as it fits right in with the whole retro-inspired quality. Also, the score, primarily improvised by Willcox’s husband, Robert Fripp, is the perfect companion for said aesthetic adding the same kind of modish mood fans of The Mighty Boosh will be well accustomed with.
Ultimately, Oram’s Aaaaaaaah! is best summed up by something David Attenborough once said: “It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest.” Aaaaaaaah! is certainly one of the most gallant directorial debuts in years and the fact that it’s so blatantly bananas should secure its cult status some time soon, something that will no doubt be aided and abetted by its release under the newly established Icon and FrightFest banner. As a side note, the inclusion of a David Attenborough or Steve Backshall commentary would work absolute wonders as a DVD extra for this one. Mr. Oram, is there any way that could be arranged?
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)
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