You might remember Steve Oram from his decade and a half of continuous character and background work in such worthy Britcom projects as Green Wing, The Mighty Boosh, Tittybangbang and Steve Coogan Live. Or perhaps you remember him as the bearded half of the comically bumbling yet oddly endearing serial killer couple in Ben Wheatley's magnificent 2012 satire, Sightseers.
However, it doesn't much matter how--or even if--you knew of him beforehand. Because there is nothing in Oram's pre-2015 catalog that could possibly prepare you for the certifiably insane masterpiece of hyper-subversive comic audacity that is Aaaaaaaah!, his ferocious and fearless directorial debut, which he also self-financed for reasons that will become apparent as you read on.
Described by Cine-Vue's Martyn Conterio as being an "anthropological social satire/horror-comedy" that is "like a collaboration between Dogme '95 and Chris Morris", Aaaaaaaah! is, at its core, a relatively straightforward exploration of interpersonal dynamics among a small group of friends, neighbors and acquaintances in a quiet, leafy section of South London. The surreal twist on this relatively mundane premise is that all the characters behave as though they've had their brains switched out with those of great apes.
Here is the trailer for Aaaaaaaah!
There is no dialogue in this film. Or, more precisely, there is no complex language, as the characters communicate via crude, pantomime gesticulations, as well as vocalizations consisting of grunts and huffs of varying intensity. The written version of this ape language, which can occasionally be spotted on street signs and in adverts, looks like this: "// oooo / oo /// o". Discussions, or what passes for them, are often interrupted by flashes of violence and cruelty, crude sexual propositions, and the occasional fart. The score, made up almost entirely of improvisational sonic tone poems by King Crimson and Robert Fripp, compliments the action absurdly well.
The plot involves a pair of males--an alpha (played by Oram) and his submissive sidekick (played by Tom Meeten)--who wander out of a woodsy suburban copse and into a household already beset by seething familial, romantic, and inter-generational conflicts, throwing the fragile established order into chaos. The household consists of a mother and daughter, (Lucy Honigman and Toyah Wilcox) and mom's alpha boyfriend (Julian Rhind-Tutt), who has a submissive sidekick of his own (Sean Reynard). Complicating matters is the family's fifth wheel, the exiled paterfamilias, beautifully portrayed by Britcom MVP Julian Barratt.
You might think such a heady set-up would lend itself to the filmmakers indulging in a bit of heavy-handed social commentary. Fortunately, you'd be wrong about that. In an interview with HeyUGuys.com, Oram states: "There are no metaphors and no intended comments. It’s just details that I hope people will enjoy, find funny and laugh at."
And oh, those details! Aaaaaaaah!'s hilarious gross-out highlights include a store manager ejaculating on a photograph of Prince Harry, a disgusting cooking show watched by the females while the men play a primitive motorcycle simulator video game, and poor Noel Fielding getting his knob bitten clean off by an angry shoplifter.
And yet, the filmmakers' avoidance of allegory notwithstanding, there's something about Oram's walk-through of his conquest's flat during a party, wherein he continually marks his territory by pissing on every surface, that manages to transcend the grotesque and speak to certain unspoken truths about masculinity and our culture's relationship with our baser animal instincts. Perhaps it's for this reason that, in his enthusiastic review for the "men's issues" column from The Telegraph UK, Tom Fordy claims that "every man should watch Aaaaaaaah!". Meanwhile, over at The Guardian, their shorter, 3-star review chose to focus on "the film’s despair at the ways women respond to such shows of mastery".
Ultimately, Aaaaaaaah! is an incredibly bizarre and transgressive experimental film that also works as a comic entertainment, simultaneously relate-able and recognizable yet disturbingly alien, and therefore worthy to sit alongside the best of Bunuel.
If you think you've got what it takes to watch Aaaaaaaah!, you can currently download it at the iTunes website via this direct link.
After reaching out to his management via Twitter, I was recently fortunate enough to get a chance to ask Mr. Oram a few questions about his film, which he graciously agreed to answer for me via email. Here, now, is the sum total of our online exchange.JERKY: Can I get a rough estimate of the budget? And was it entirely self-financed, or at least entirely independently financed, as I've seen intimated (but never confirmed) in various media stories about the movie?
JERKY: Was the addition of the sub-titular appendix "We Are Not Men" an after-thought for the North American market, to make it easier to find in search engines? And does it have (as I suspect) a Nietzschean meaning?
JERKY: That ending... WHY?!?!?