IN David Lowery’s recent film A Ghost Story, Casey Affleck plays a bedsheet ghost who wonders around his Texas home while time folds out before him and then comes back around. Affleck’s lingering ghost, beyond its initially juvenile appearance, is one that both speaks to deeply rooted feelings of attachment and grief – as well as opening wider questions of legacy and time.
There is a ghost of a very different kind on display in Justin Edgar’s gritty British noir The Maker – out in cinemas on 29 September. One that is born out of bloodier circumstances, and with this, produces an intriguing moral ambivalence to consider.
Set on the dark streets of Birmingham, The Maker follows lowly criminal Marley as an attempted robbery goes horribly wrong. Marley, played by the coarse-faced – and impressive – Frederick Schmidt, unintentionally kills Ana (Ana Uluru) in front of her young daughter, and is duly sent to prison for manslaughter.
The ‘woman killer’ – as Marley is dubbed by a cellmate – receives brutal beatings for his crime. Yet it is the battle inside his mind – both guilt and personal loss – that troubles him the most. This trauma manifests itself through the ghostly appearance of Ana in his cell. She sits across from him, still bearing the gruesome throat wound he inflicted, as an inescapable reminder of his action.
Marley is released from prison seven years later. Despite Ana still being at his side, he falls straight back into the same criminal ways, tempted by manipulative bosses Brendan (John Hannah) and Jimmy (Sturan Rodger). Marley comes to learn the troubling truth that Ana’s daughter, whom he had tried to apologise to in prison, is wrapped up in this seedy world of crime.
The Marker hits hard, but not with the sensationalised action and occasionally carless violence of Hollywood. There is a quiet realism, matched with the unglamorous backdrop of a post-industrial Midlands, that lands harder than most up-tempo crime thrillers.
Edgar’s camera, too, is measured and economic. With Marley’s stunted speech offering little insight, it chips away at his hardened exterior with tight close-ups. The clearest windows into Marley’s mind, however, are his interactions with Ana. From this, Edgar draws a devilish line between redemption and bloody revenge – what does Ana’s ghost want? Is this truly Ana or a projection of Marley’s warped and violent mind?
Paul Saunderson’s minimalist score means the only noticeable song we hear through the film is Enoch Kent’s version of early 20th century folk song The Butcher’s Boy. It harks back to a linage of Catholic immigrants in the area and the infamous history of criminality that followed, including the Peaky Blinders. Marley is merely another clog in the bloody wheel of history.
Some will be discouraged by the film’s lack of sizzle, but this is a praise-worthy example of bold British filmmaking. Edgar has set a respectable marker.
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