Exit (2020) | Directed by Michael Fausti
Written by Mathew Bayliss | Starring Tony Denham, Michael Fausti, Charlotte Gould
‘Leaving, it’s harder than you think’, so the tagline to genre maestro Michael Fausti’s latest offering Exit observes. And boy is he right. The political landscape has evolved or, perhaps that should be mutated into a picture so grotesque that, ten years ago horror fans wouldn’t have been able to conjure up our present reality from even the darkest corners of their imagination. One of horror’s most powerful and moving attributes is that it is able to reflect what is occurring within society at any given moment. Along with a shift towards nationalism in the recent years, the notion of what scares us at the movies has gravitated away from slasher villains and horrifying monsters to a deep rooted fear of people, hence the coining of the term folk horror which aptly covers not only recent films, such as A Field in England (Ben Wheatley, 2013) and Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019) but historical works that sit comfortably in the sub-genre, most notably the infamous trilogy; Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968), The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) and Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971).
Inspired by Brexit (the clue is in the title), it’s surprising that, given the time span of seemingly endless negotiations and press coverage, there have not been more Brexit related horror films on offer. It’s a brave thing to take on given that it has become a term loaded with associations of xenophobia and much fraught social and political tensions. However, with his experimental approach and blend of unique aesthetic and deliciously good dialogue I can’t think of anyone more perfect for the job than Fausti.
A character credited only as ‘Man on the phone’ makes a call to a small time Property Manager (Tony Denham) to report a ‘double booking’. Adorned in a suit and playing it uber cool, the man, (portrayed by Fausti himself, who has such a scintillating screen presence that it’s a pity not to see more of him) evokes a mix of Bogart style noir and sixties British gangster. Just what his role is remains ambiguous but with his working-class accent and art collectables (which he repeatedly warns the Property Manager to take care of), Fausti and screenwriter Matthew Bayliss manage to cleverly blur the lines around notions of wealth, class and social status. A heavy and unforgiving score starts up and is juxtaposed with sharply cut shots of two couples. The rapidity of the cuts work in tandem with the score to create a sense of bombardment and attack, and with only brief images to look at we are never fully clear about what it is we are seeing, how it all fits together, and what this all means.
Young and wide-eyed lovers Steve (Billy James Machin) and Michelle (Leonarda Sahani) are staying at an apartment in London to celebrate their 3rd anniversary, but arrive to news of the aforementioned accidental double booking. They find themselves sharing the space for the night with French couple, Christophe (Christophe Delesques) and Adrienne (Charlotte Gould) who exude style, sex appeal, and a carefree attitude to life. The excitable and slightly naive Michelle is entranced by the pair but Steve is not impressed: ‘they’re not our sort of people’ he remarks in the privacy of their bedroom; a clear and vital commentary about the class divide and cultural differences that the Brexit campaign was steeped in.
Forced to cohabitate for the night, the couples settle down to a take-away meal and make their way through copious amounts of alcohol. Preferring beer out of a can, it’s notable that Steve is the only one who refuses a glass of wine, declaring that: ‘anything other than beer’ makes him sick. It’s small touches like this that make him an instant outsider from the glass clinking, giggles of Michelle and the intruders. Or, are they intruders? This is another interesting open-ended question mounted by Exit, where we are given information but most importantly, not told what to think.
When face to face with the Property Manager, Christophe rightly remarks that: ‘we all have confirmation’, therefore pointing out that neither couple has more entitlement than the other to the apartment. This feels as much of a reflection of the red tape versus morality debate around citizenship as of the current scenario between the group. Like a more up to date Abigail’s Party (Mike Leigh, 1977) these subtle tensions continue to bubble under the surface until they feel primed to explode. Steve walks in on Christophe and Adrianne during foreplay, Christophe tries to lecture Steve on how: ‘long term relationships are not compatible with good sex’, and Michelle has a little too much to drink which causes the couples to temporarily splinter off into their separate rooms. It’s interesting to have this change in dynamic and it feels telling that Steve chooses not to share with Michelle that Christophe approached him to suggest an evening of couple swapping. Again, this element of his character is nicely balanced as, although it never feels as though he quite crosses a line, there’s a definite undercurrent to Steve’s sense of control over Michelle. In fact, after a glass of wine or two she reveals he has a violent past, a piece of information that is used against him later on in the evening.
Fausti doesn’t hold back and unleashes the full power of sound and vision onto his audience and after watching his previous shorts, Dead Celebrities (review) and The Ingress Tapes (review), I feel like I’m getting a strong sense of how he likes to express himself, mainly though cultural references, artistic and cinematic nods, and a bitingly wonderful sense of humour. Watching Exit, I’m reminded of the early work of famed French Extremity director Alexandra Aja (Haute Tension, 2003) and the often times controversial films of auteur Gaspar Noe (Climax, 2018).
The cinematography throughout is a perfect match for the tone and content of the film, with the Argento blues and pinks working to present what can best be described as an intoxicating erotic nightmare. A stand-out scene comes when Adrianne drops a pill into Michelle’s glass which her face sits behind in an encompassing shot; the visual metaphor of the tablet dissolving and clouding the glass representing the impending loss of her inhibitions. Exit is at once subtle and provocative, surreal and yet also totally grounded in a realism that at times, feels totally relatable. Not only has Fausti demonstrated he can tackle a feature film and pull it off with the same panache and edge of his shorts but he also continues to be bold, experimental and utterly refreshing.