The World We Knew (FrightFest 2020) review – spellbinding blend of crime and creepy

October 24, 2020 (Last updated: 5 days ago)
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews


Slow burn British noir horror film full of rich characters, a terrific score, and tension.



Slow burn British noir horror film full of rich characters, a terrific score, and tension.

Nearly thirty years ago, I watched a film by a brand new director about gangsters regrouping after a job gone wrong, with glimpses of the past for each of them. This evening, I saw the beautifully made The World We Knew, and it was as though the team decided to take the Tarantino model and make it in their own mold.

The World We Knew is set in a large empty house in the countryside, where the gang is spending a night while the leader tries to get his head around what went wrong. We don’t know what the crime was in this story, just that one person is dead and another – lying upstairs – is on his way out. Nevertheless, they must have got away with the loot, as some of the conversation while passing the time is about how each person plans to spend their share. One by one, though, each of the criminals is troubled by guilt, memories, the sense that something here is “not right”… and it’s not always easy to tell who is suffering from what.

Directors Matthew Benjamin Jones (who also wrote the film with Kirk Lake) and Luke Skinner have made short films before, and this is now their first feature film. There is not a huge amount of plot, but rich characters and enough atmosphere to make Mars breathable. When they’re not off in their own thoughts, the gang members spend the time waiting, waiting, waiting; and each has his (yes, they’re all men) own way of dealing with time. Barker (Struan Rodger) tells a story from Greek mythology, Gordon (Johann Myers) recalls his time in the boxing ring and others tend to the dying man or creep off to make phone calls. They don’t all find it easy to tolerate each other’s ways, but it is interesting to see how they all know their place in the gang’s hierarchy and, for the most part, do what they’re told.

As well as this waiting, the atmosphere is enhanced by the marvelous set, the house seemingly frozen in time, in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t tell you what decade The World We Knew is set in from either décor or costumes, the only clue about its contemporary nature being the occasional mobile phone. The House (I nearly deleted that accidental capital H, but I think it fits) appears comfortable, though not used often; warm and clean, but a little on the odd side and unfamiliar to most of those present. The striking score from French band The Limiñanas adds a mesmeric feel, though not at all peaceful.

There’s nothing peaceful at all here, but a theatrical tension instead. Indeed the way the narrative moved from one person to the next brought to mind An Inspector Calls. Set in one location, with a sparse dramatis personae, The World We Knew could almost be a theatrical production.

Struan Rodger is the one familiar face in the cast, an elegant, almost calming influence on the group. Alex Wells is the young debut actor, playing the newcomer to the gang. All the other actors’ experience lies somewhere in between those two. Two actors particularly impressed me: Wells, in showing the restrained presentation of a man struggling to manage both responsibility and his role in the group; and Myers, who delivers a frenetic performance of an intelligent man high on both paranoia and cocaine.

I realize I’ve not said much about what makes The World We Knew a horror film. That’s probably for the best.

The world premiere takes place at FrightFest, October 2020.

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