Who names their directorial debut film Klokkenluider? Neil Maskell, apparently. Klokkenluider is the Dutch word for someone who alerts the authorities, Google tells me. Without spoiling anything, it fits Maskell’s film. Better known as an actor, Maskell is a familiar face from films such as Ben Wheatley’s superb Kill List and last year’s Bull. Having worked with many great directors, perhaps some of that genius has rubbed off on Maskell. Klokkenluider would suggest so.
Two close protection officers are sent to Belgium to watch over a married couple, Ewan and Silke. Ewan is an involuntary whistleblower, accidentally finding something monumental on a government official’s computer. The couple are now waiting for an esteemed British journalist to come to get the scoop.
Most of Maskell’s film is about the strenuous, stressful wait for the journalist’s arrival. There are shades of Wheatley’s dark and bleak worldview: Ewan concludes that nothing matters anymore, ultimately confirmed and reinforced by Jenna Coleman’s journalist Flo, who assures Ewan it probably never did, as if this would provide any comfort to anyone at all.
Aside from the signature Wheatley bleakness, there are also similarities to Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, which is also about two violent men stranded on an assignment, also in Belgium. Klokkenluider also has fast-paced, witty dialogue running through it. Written by Maskell, the dialogue feels layered enough but never pretentious or complicated.
It helps that the film is filled with great performances by great actors who can convincingly perform the dialogue. As Ewan, Amit Shah is like a twig about to break. His eyes often dart around the room, and he struggles to sit still, somehow unable to believe this is all still happening.
Tom Burke, who’s also wonderful but underused in The Wonder, is convincing as a dry, restrained hitman. The film’s highlight is Roger Evans playing his hapless partner Glynn. Although he’s playing the role of a fool, the fumbling, bumbling idiot, Evans infuses the role with something unsettling, bubbling just under the surface. I’m dying to know more about these two characters, their previous assignments, and what kind of trouble they got themselves into.
The snappy dialogue keeps things interesting enough, although very little happens in the middle. It never drags per se, but when Coleman’s Flo arrives, the film begins its approach to a darkly chaotic finale. Coleman must hold some record of how many times a character can say any version or abbreviation of the word “cunt” in under a minute. Still, her role is the most fun I’ve seen the actress ever have on screen.
Klokkenluider is also surprisingly visually interesting. The beginning is a bit too rushed; Maskell seems to throw everything in there and hopes for the best, but once we settle into the main portion of the narrative, it starts flowing well. The piercing sound design – some sounds are amplified to almost unbearable volumes – and the booming score also help.
Klokkenluider is an assured, confident debut for Maskell as a director. By no means perfect, but this is still an exciting beginning for his new career path. Klokkenluider will join films like Kill List, In Bruges and Boiling Point in the hall of fame of British breakthrough films.
Klokkenluider is screening at BFI London Film Festival October 8.