Ellis Reed reviews The Show, Alan Moore's screenwriting début, from the 2021 Arrow Video FrightFest. Mitch Jenkins directs.
Graphic novels aren’t my specialist subject by any stretch, but I know two graphic novelists by name, and one of them is Alan Moore.
He’s no stranger to the silver screen, since his V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were all given the full Hollywood treatment back in the Noughties. However, The Show (UK, Mitch Jenkins, 2020) is his first go at writing a feature film directly. It’s set in a universe-next-door version of Northampton, which, as per the synopsis, is ‘a haunted town filled with Voodoo gangsters, masked adventurers, Depression-era private eyes and violent chiaroscuro women.’
Fletcher Dennis (Tom Burke) is a professional hitman, although he prefers the more delicate title of ‘exit technician’. He also seems to be a bit of a psychic savant, insofar as his dreams are much more helpful than mine ever are. He arrives in Northampton to kill a womaniser called Mitchum (Darrell D’Silva), who left his lover in a coma before making off with a Rosicrucian Maltese Cross. Her father – an East End trader called Bleaker (Christopher Fairbank) – is the one who hired Dennis. However, Mitchum is already dead by the time our hero gets there, and Bleaker seems more interested in getting the cross back. Suffice to say, the plot soon thickens.
Part of the film’s charm, which may alienate some viewers, is the screwball cast of minor characters. Amusingly, the two ‘Depression-era private eyes’ are in fact children, running a detective agency from the garden shed. Their scenes are shot in moody black and white, and one of them provides his own Noir-style narration by simply saying it himself. A voodoo drugs baron has magical-seeming knowledge of who Dennis is, thanks to her second sight, ‘connections with the lower’, and – more plausibly – ‘broadband’. The most grounded of the cast is probably a journalist called Faith (Siobhan Hewlett), who gets drawn into the plot by a mysterious coma-dream and decides to stick with Dennis thereafter.
There’s a good number of actors, but the standout performance is probably Moore himself, who appears on screen as a dead (but still working) old-time comic called Frank Metterton. In one of the film’s most striking passages, he performs a brief musical number as ‘Mr Moon’, wearing the vaudeville get-up you can see in the film’s promotional stills. It’s one of many occasions when the film feels like a more serious version of The Mighty Boosh, and that sounds like your bag, it’s intoxicating.
The story has a strong supernatural element, as you might expect. The script is peppered throughout with allusions to a vast range of sources, covering everything from Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis to The Beano. (I actually didn’t register the gag until someone else pointed it out, but ‘Dennis’ has spiky black hair, a jumper with red and black horizontal stripes, and even a catapult.) The sheer number of influences reminded me of – and I’m reaching the limits of my knowledge here, comparing Moore to the other graphic novelist I know by name – Neil Gaiman.
Whether all this works as a movie is very much a matter of personal taste, and it depends quite heavily on your appetite for the eccentric. For my own part, I enjoyed it a lot. It certainly doesn’t have the scale of a Watchmen or a V for Vendetta, but it’s nicely produced on a modest budget and achieves the feel of a good TV show, both in terms of polish and pace. The meat of the story has the energy of a police procedural, rather than a summer blockbuster, so moderate your expectations accordingly. It’s driven primarily by dialogue, with the occasional dream or revelation thrown in to create mood and interest.
Taken on its own terms, there’s an awful lot to enjoy here. The story is engaging, the direction is stylish, and I thought the costume design – something I rarely mention in a review – was first-rate. Moore writes very distinctive lines of dialogue, coining delicious phrases like ‘a Venn diagram of contempt’, or throwing in an extended metaphor about a black hole. His bizarro version of Northampton would make an excellent setting for a TV show, and this is something the creators are keen to explore. ‘We hope that it’s enjoyable as a thing in itself,’ Moore told Deadline, ‘but to some degree it could be seen as an incredibly elaborate pilot episode. We think there’s quite an interesting story that we could develop out of it as a TV series, which would imaginatively be called The Show.’
In fact, since The Show weighs in at about two hours – which is long, for mid-budget genre entertainment – I wonder if it would be better experienced as a two-part miniseries. In either case, if Moore revisits his version of Northampton, I’ll certainly be along for the ride. It’s a strangely compelling, sometimes even hypnotic locale, with colourful characters, layers of mystery, flashes of humour, and potential for many more stories to come.
You can watch a trailer for The Show below.
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