A cross between Miss Marple and the Big Liebowski, stoned slacker, the improbably-named Elfie Hopkins (Jaime Winstone) smells something rotten when the local villagers start disappearing around the same time as the glamorous and mysterious Gammon family move in next door.
Rich, cultured and well-travelled, the Gammons seduce Elfie’s sleepy Welsh village with their tales of exotic travel and adventure. Everyone loves them, admires them. But Elfie doesn’t trust them. They’re too nice. Too charming. Too…perfect. They’re just too good to be true. Mum Isabelle (Kate Magowan) is poised and cool, an English Stepford Wife. Teenage son Elliot (Will Payne) is a sneering trendy with anger issues and a crossbow, cute daughter Ruby (Gwyneth Keyworth) dresses like a doll and has a practically erotic relationship with her collection of samurai swords. And there’s a hunger about handsome family patriarch and boutique travel agent Charlie (Rupert Evans), a man defined by his very exotic appetites.
A fantasist and aspiring private eye who for years has spied on the locals with best friend Dylan (Aneurin Barnard), Elfie’s first big investigation just may be her last…
Quirkier than a costume party at David Lynch’s house, you may want to like Elfie Hopkins a lot more than you actually do. Its certainly ambitious, it desperately wants to be unique, to be an instant cult classic, but the tone is uneven, lurching from being a laidback Twin Peaks-wannabee to bloody backwoods horror by way of teen drama. It almost feels like one of those late-night episodes of Hollyoaks where they felt they could get away with violence, sex and swearing.
Apparently inspired by director and co-writer Ryan Andrews’ own childhood detective fantasies growing up in rural Wales, the script feels clunky, the dialogue lacklustre; it doesn’t sing like the classic film noirs it’s inspired by. It lacks the wit of Veronica Mars, the ingenuity of Rian Johnson’s fantastic neo-noir Brick both of whom have already done the teen detective pastiche of the hardboiled crime genre and done it very well.
While there are some good performances here, Rupert Evans silky smooth Charlie is particularly good and Gwyneth Keyworth’s scary/cute Ruby (who looks like she’s been hiding in Paloma Faith’s dressing up box) is wonderful, bringing a sympathetic pathos to her lovelorn cannibal teen, the film suffers from a severe case of bad casting. A charismatic actress, Jaime Winstone doesn’t convince as a Welsh teen detective. It’s never made explicitly clear just how old Elfie is supposed to be but it’s a pretty safe bet she’s not supposed to be a 27-year-old Londoner. Versatile as she may be, Jaime Winstone looks like she’s in her late-20s and doesn’t even attempt a Welsh accent. Meanwhile, father Ray Winstone (“I’m the Daddy now!”) in a laughably bad cameo, plays local butcher Bryn, Elfie’s guardian angel.
With its overly-mannered dialogue and stylised look borrowed from a trendy Dalston retro-store, Elfie Hopkins feels like it’s trying too hard. The mystery elements don’t work because there’s no mystery; we know the Gammons are wrong ‘uns from the start. The last act lurch into horror as Elfie takes on her cannibalistic neighbours in a bloody showdown, while it injects some much-needed energy into the film, doesn’t really grab you. It’s dark but not dark enough, bloodily violent but not inventively so. There’s nothing at stake for the audience, you don’t really care about Elfie, she’s not really a character, more a clichéd collection of character traits hiding behind a wooly hat and hipster hair. Which is a shame. You can just about see the bones of the dark, quirky film Elfie Hopkins thinks it is, unfortunately Andrews and co-writer Riyad Barmania have failed to coat them with flesh.
Jaime Winstone, Ray Winstone, Kimberley Nixon, Steven Mackintosh, Rupert Evans, Gwyneth Keyworth, Will Payne, Kate Magowan
1 hour 29 minutes
UK Cinema Release Date:
Friday 20th April 2012