Friday April 12, 1996
The title of Anna Campion's provocative and challenging "Loaded" refers both to the anxieties and uncertainties that can grip all Gen X-ers and to seven young people who gather in an old Georgian-style mansion in rural England to make their own horror picture video. They are attractive, well-educated, and once we've managed to sort them out, distinctive individuals.
Campion's ambitious, involving first feature is also "loaded" in yet another way: Her people are exceptionally complex, with conflicting, shifting emotions, allegiances and perceptions. The result is a superbly acted film of terrific density and immediacy; it's thick with feelings, both expressed and repressed, and it evokes a strong sense of the ultimate ambiguity of human nature and behavior. "Loaded" is often funny--but it is also tragic as well.
"Loaded" hits the road running with the highly intelligent, deeply neurotic Neil (Oliver Milburn) arguing with his therapist (Dearbhla Molloy), who protests his attempt to photograph her with his video camera. She speaks of the need for boundaries and points out, accurately, that Neil's are "wobbly."
Soon off to the country with his friends, Neil will remain the group's dominant personality, the one most reflective and questioning but also the least stable, the most vulnerable, haunted by his childhood witnessing of the drowning of his younger brother in infancy. His therapist suggests that his considerable inner rage expresses an overwhelming sense of impotence.
His great hope is to begin a romance with the patrician Rose (Catherine McCormack), who is self-possessed and in the process of discovering what direction her life will take. In this she clashes with Lance (Danny Cunningham), a determined realist, the film-within-the-film's director who sees himself immigrating to the United States. He's having an affair with Charlotte (Biddy Hodson), yearning to throw over the dictates of well-bred propriety but disappointed in the shallowness of her romance with him; it is her aunt to whom the borrowed mansion belongs.
Bespectacled Giles (Nick Patrick) is the group's intellectual, who collects news stories of sensational murders, explaining to the repulsed, sensible Zita (Thandie Newton) that he's fascinated by psychopaths who "literalize" their impulses. Arriving on his motorcycle is the sweet-natured Lionel (Matthew Eggleton), the one truly spiritual member of the group.
Campion, who is the sister of "The Piano" director Jane Campion, is not afraid to put to use some of the cinema's most durable conventions. The house-party-in-the-country setting recalls Renoir's "Rules of the Game," and the people in both films discover how thin the veneer of civilization can be.
Campion even lets us think at the start that we may be in for a haunted house thriller, and her young people, at the urging of Lance, agree to drop acid, play truth games for the camera--just in case their horror picture, a sort of campy ancient Celtic saga, doesn't pan out. The demons let loose by the acid are of course within themselves, bringing them ultimately into dire confrontations with themselves, one another and their wary, disillusioned view of life.
The hoary bum trip device represents a genuine risk on Campion's part, inviting a passe feeling of the '60s. Campion gets away with it--although quite honestly you may not think so on a single viewing of her film--simply because her people are so fully dimensional, so painfully real, so much in the present. They leave you with a sense of ironic contrast between their formidable command of the language and the very little control they have over their destinies. They also leave you, like David Thewlis' character in "Naked," with the feeling that they can be painfully aware of this irony themselves.
Loaded, 1996. R, for a drug sequence, some sexuality and language. A Miramax release of a United Kingdom/New Zealand co-production. Writer-director Anna Campion. Producer David Hazlett. Executive producer Ben Gibson. Cinematographer Alan Almond. Editor John Gilbert. Costumes Stewart Meachem. Music Simon Fisher Turner. Production designer Alistair Kay. Art director James Hambidge. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Oliver Milburn as Neil. Nick Patrick as Giles. Catherine McCormack as Rose. Thandie Newton as Zita.