24 Lies a Second: Shelf Absorption

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Shelf Absorption

When Noel Clarke first rose to prominence as an actor ten years ago, surely no-one would have predicted he would end up keeping the British film industry going single-handed. Well, I exaggerate, but not by much – as an actor, writer, producer and director he keeps cranking them out, working in all sorts of genres too: thrillers, social drama, sports films, and genre movies too. He popped up on a chat show a while ago and revealed he had an SF horror movie in the works for which he was having trouble thinking of a good title.

Well, said movie has now turned up, called Storage 24 (which suggests he never did manage to think of a good title). In the movie, which he co-wrote and produced, Clarke plays Charlie, a somewhat self-absorbed everyman struggling to get over being dumped by his girlfriend Shelley (Antonia Campbell-Hughes). He and his best friend Mark (Colin O’Donoghue) decide to visit the enormous self-storage warehouse in Battersea where the couple have been keeping their things, in order to extract his stuff, only to discover Shelley is there too with a pair of her friends. Social awkwardness recedes when it becomes apparent that a plane crash in central London (this happens at the top of the movie, but no-one pays it much attention for plot reasons) has unleashed a monster of unspecified origins, but of gribbly aspect and with face-eating tendencies, and said beastie is also lurking in the warehouse. It's just really bad luck that the plot also demands that the warehouse security goes into lockdown, trapping them inside with the gooey predator. Can they break out of a place that was built with security in mind?

Storage 24 is another entry in the Brit horror-in-mundania subgenre, following the zombies-down-the-pub japes of Shaun of the Dead and the monsters-on-a-sink-estate oddness of Attack the Block. Unlike those, this one is consistently played straight, which is a brave choice for a movie which is essentially a remake of Alien, set in a self-storage warehouse.

This is a film with all sorts of problems, but the biggest one is that it takes an awfully long time to get to the alien-chasing-people-round-a-self-storage-warehouse stuff. Just manoeuvring everyone and the monster into the warehouse takes ages, and the director's fondness for atmospheric arty shots doesn't help the pace much. Indeed, for most of its first half, Storage 24 is just the story of a bunch of unengaging characters wandering around a self-storage warehouse bickering and complaining about their unhappy lovelives, with the odd moment of implied off-screen horror just to keep the monster plot simmering.

Then something very odd happens: a moment of riveting human drama which completely overturns what you think you know about the main characters. Suddenly the drama springs to life, and a strange consequence is that you realise just how interesting the lurking alien plot really and truly isn't.

Of course, at this point the alien-chasing-people-round-a-self-storage-warehouse stuff kicks off and it all becomes utterly mechanical, not to mention deeply predictable. Characterisations completely and inexplicably change from the first part of the film – this isn't to say that Clarke and O’Donoghue don't get to show their ability, while Laura Haddock is also good in the second girl role, but it does feel like a different film, and not really a better one.

The monster itself is neither memorable nor especially original, but the CGI is passable enough I suppose. There is some fairly full-on gore for a 15-rated movie, but once again nothing which really surprises or involves you in the story.

That's Storage 24 in a nutshell, I fear: there's barely a moment, an idea, or a character in it that has any vitality or sense of the unexpected about it. Towards the end one gets the sense of various narrative reflexes firing automatically, propelling the story forward in a grisly half-life, but nothing more. The film even attempts the trick of a grandstanding twist-ending widescreen CGI shot, but as this is obviously slotted in solely for this purpose, and is barely supported by the narrative (let alone the budget) even this fails.

I hate to be so negative about an attempt at an honest British genre movie, but Storage 24 never gels to become more than the sum of its numerous inspirations. The concept is a very sound one, but most of the creative decisions made in realising it are questionable at best, and their actual execution frequently cack-handed. For genre obsessives and Clarke fans only.

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