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PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:41 pm 
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CALLUM CRAWFORD: DEGENERATES (2018) - SF INDIEFEST

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JAMES SANBROOK IN DEGENERATES

A quiet gathering of eccentrics

British writer/director/actor/producer Callum Crawford's debut feature is partly mundane, partly surreal, partly comical, and very English. It starts with the alliteratively-named young auteur's real-life situation: he couldn't sell his scripts and after five years of trying, set about to make his own film. Such is the case for Casey Vaughn (Crawford), a writer whose MSS. keep being returned to him, and he doesn't want to take pay for touching up somebody else's script. He's told by his sleazy agent Victor Moseley (Jamie Foreman) that true stories sell. So he recruits a handful of eccentric characters to go and find an actually missing teenage girl in the neighborhood who has disappeared on the way home from school. The plan is to turn what happens along the way into a script. He gathers a bit of information about the girl from going to her house and, on the spur of the moment, impersonating a police detective to the girl’s mother (Anna Acton). The lawbreaking, and the script-sculpting, begin.

What's so English is the slow, calm manner in which this risky scene unfolds. As if to pause for breath, or let us better savor the moment, early passages of Degenerates in fact seem at times on the verge of of coming to a standstill. Whether this is evidence of trouble maintaining rhythm or absurdist playfulness, we don't know yet. If we stay tuned, the film offers quiet pleasures. These start with the "characters" Victor recruits to populate his script, aide him in his search for the girl, Jane. Maureen (the excellent Annette Badland) he spots delivering a blistering reproof to an impolite toff in line at a cafe waiting a bit too impatiently for his espresso. She turns out to be a pharmacist who moonlights as a black market drug dealer. Next, sitting in a car she's about to steal, he finds Naomi (Lauren Douglin), a petty thief with a violent streak. Last he recruits a classic English type, a pale blond fifteen-year-old called Peter (James Sanbrook), a real boy scout with a bike and large binoculars. Peter, an innocent who reveals no caution about wrongdoing, acts as the lookout and team "Mascot." Victor stages a comical information session for is little gang. Then they're on their way.

Victor's notion is that these three helpers will provide "character" for his screenplay, and whatever happens will be its content. There is a convicted felon connected to the missing girl's family who becomes he prime suspect and whom they quickly track down and subdue. Mayhem ensues. It's obvious Victor, familiar with fiction and an experienced if not a successful screenwriter, possesses very little notion of the line between the real and the invented, or, more importantly, between the bold but acceptable and the totally illegal. Callum Crawford, on the other hand, seems to know quite well what he is doing, and his multiple-hyphenate performance shows a maximum of British sand-froid and drollery. Let's hope Degenerates will serve him as a good calling card toward future successes.

Degenerates, 102 mins., had its US debut at the San Diego Film Festival 11 Oct. 2018. It was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Independent Film Festival (SF Indiefest, 30 Jan.-14 Feb. 2019).

SF IndieFest: DEGENERATES: Upcoming Showtimes
February 7 7:00 PM SF IndieFest at the Roxie

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