Pitch black and utterly filthy

Moral defiler: James McAvoy as Bruce in new black-comedy Filth.
Moral defiler: James McAvoy as Bruce in new black-comedy Filth.

This month, Icon Home Entertainment releases Scottish black comedy, Filth, on digital formats. Jess Layt offers her take on the film.

From the twisted mind of Scottish Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh (who also serves as a producer) comes Filth, a film that more than lives up to its title.

Black comedies are not for everyone. Some, like Death at a Funeral, have a broader appeal than most. Others, like In Bruges, appeal to a much smaller audience. Filth is blacker, grimier and far more divisive than most black comedies an audience is ever likely to see. Filth makes The Hangover look positively tame.

As its name should suggest, Filth is most definitely not for children.

Bruce (James McAvoy, Wanted) is a morally corrupt Scottish cop doing his utmost to land a promotion to Detective Inspector. He is assigned to investigate the murder of a Japanese student (reminiscent of Romper Stomper) with his partner Ray (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot) and uses highly illegal, and rather depraved, methods to illicit information from suspects.

The murder investigation sets the story wheels in motion, but it is Bruce’s multifaceted scheme to earn his promotion, which he believes will win back his estranged wife and daughter, that is the true backbone of the film.

Bruce concocts mean, awful plans to humiliate and discredit his co-workers, including promising up-and-comer Imogen Poots (Are We Officially Dating?), in his game to win the coveted promotion. And, as Bruce says at the beginning of the film, “nobody plays the game like [him]”.

Joining Bruce on his rollercoaster ride of perversion and sleaziness, the audience is also privy to his outrageous and disturbing hallucinations.

Suffering from an unspecified mental illness, Bruce occasionally sees himself and colleagues with animal heads in place of their own faces. He imagines himself and his doctor, an energetic Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) sporting a curiously Australian-flavoured accent, in a 2001: A Space Odyssey inspired room, engaging in increasingly ludicrous and surreal conversations.

James McAvoy is the undeniable star of Filth, but be warned – this is a far sight from the admirable James McAvoy fans fell in love with in Atonement.

Poots’ character, Amanda Drummond, says of Bruce, “you sicken me, you repulse me”, and much of the audience would be inclined to agree.

Despite Bruce’s vile, repulsive behaviour and self-destructive personality, McAvoy injects a vulnerability and odd charm to the character, which sees (open-minded) audiences, against all moral logic, hoping his sordid and abhorrent games pay off.

The audience shares in a perverted sense of enjoyment seeing Bruce’s wicked schemes come to fruition.

Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt plays Mary, the one truly sympathetic figure in the film. Mary is the only character who elicits a semblance of humanity from Bruce, and their scenes together are surprisingly moving.

Despite Bruce’s violence and generally repugnant demeanour, it is these moments that make you genuinely feel for the man.

There’s a Jekyll and Hyde feel to Bruce’s behaviour, and sometimes it is hard to determine where the real Bruce ends and the public Bruce begins.

For film fans there are an appropriate number of Kubrick references and an effective use of breaking the fourth wall.

A ‘Silver Lady’ car sing-along is the most surreal – and gratuitously ridiculous, yet unquestionably enjoyable – moment of the film, which has more than its fair share of surreal moments.

Outside of James McAvoy, the actor with the greatest impact is Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes), who plays the simple yet lovable Bladesey. Scenes with Bruce and Bladesey are the highlights of the film, as McAvoy and Marsan play off each other wonderfully.

Filth is a manifestation of vice, a confronting, yet oddly whimsical film that straps viewers in and presents them with acts usually reserved for gutters and dark rooms.

The dialogue is foul, fast-paced and exceedingly Scottish, full of razor-sharp put-downs and politically incorrect banter.

The ending is surprisingly touching, with a twist that is actually quite tragic for a film that takes so much enjoyment in depravity.

Filled with nudity, drug use, offensive language and violence, the world of Filth is repulsiveness personified. But as a film it is not repulsive, but rather compulsive, challenging and darkly funny.

Filth is available to buy digitally from today, and to rent or buy on Blu-ray, DVD and digitally from April 4, and is rated R.


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