2019 | DIR: KEITH SUTLIFF | STARRING: KEN SUTCLIFF | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
As I’ve already alluded to, it’s impossible to separate any discussion of THE REFUGE from Sutliff, who, seriously, has around a dozen distinct credits in front of and behind the camera for his work here. Assuming this is true, I’m baffled at the thought of a single person undertaking all these roles at once* (in fact, it would probably make a more interesting film), yet even more so at how mediocre he is at each of them. For instance, Sutliff gives himself almost no lines but lacks the screen presence to compensate for this; there are scenes where his blocking, body language and facial expression don’t change at all, distracting any viewer still struggling in vain to immerse themselves. Perhaps it’s a good thing Sutliff is spared from having to read his own amateurish dialogue, since any actor would surely find it excruciating to repeat themselves constantly, or address the character they’re talking to by name in every other line, both of which are regular occurrences in this script.
Meanwhile, the direction fails to establish the gritty tone THE REFUGE seems to strive for, or any tone at all. Rather, it’s assumed that the cinematography (ironically, one of the few duties not performed by Sutliff) will do the heavy lifting; yes, a film like Drive uses shadow, desaturation and different camera angles extensively, but simply employing them constantly doesn’t automatically mean you’ve made a neo-noir thriller. Coupled with the lifeless performances and writing, this leads to locations in THE REFUGE feeling empty and dull. This is arguably best seen in the opening sequence, which sees Sutliff’s protagonist, Marcus (though, and I cannot stress this enough, his name just doesn’t matter), drive through the streets of an unnamed city at night for approximately five minutes.
No dialogue, no music, no obvious reason for him to be out there. Okay, sure. As Marcus finally exits the car and we understand where he’s been going and why, Suctliff makes the bold decision to cut to black right when the action is starting. However, this intrigue is ruined seconds later as we’re dropped into THE REFUGE’s opening credits, set against a near identical night-time city drive which lasts as long as the previous one. Some may call this padding; I call it a big fuck you to the audience for even thinking this film would make you want to pay attention.
There is no part of THE REFUGE worth your time. Even lovers of ‘so bad it’s good’ cinema will be bored by the sheer lack of plot, tone and interesting characters. I genuinely have no clue what Keith Sutliff was trying to achieve here, but it’s clear that him taking on so many roles during the production led to there being no one left to step in and save the film from his bad ideas.
*Actually come to think of it...