Review: Assistance

Written and directed by John Doherty, two brothers struggle to come to terms with their father’s terminal illness, sometimes the rational thing to do isn’t always easy. Starring: Stuart Forbes, Thomas Harvey, Dena Skalin, Marcel Reyes L, Van De Grac and Nadine Esterl.

Wanting to help your terminally ill father when there’s nothing more that the hospital can do, leads to some less than legal choices and that’s exactly what is left to explore for these two brothers. It isn’t typically a subject that you’d think would lead into a comedy but finding humour among tragedy is a skill that’s been used for centuries. The film starts abruptly, having a nurse give rather gross details about comatose patients to one of the brothers, as he attempts to eat and while the very unfortunate timing itself is funny, it’s a little too strong of a specific sense of humour to for its first impression. It starts the tone off on unsure footing, as it’s not inherently clear whether it’s being used purely as comedy or whether it’s a comment on insensitivity, or possibly even both. There’s a fairly consistent issue as the film progresses with the timing and tone of its comedy, you can see the intention but it can come across as uncomfortable or awkward at times, within the dialogue.

At moments where the brothers discuss their unconventional solution to their father’s illness, it feels as though the influences in direction and cinematography came from heist films, embracing that criminal element. Similarly, introducing the character of the dentist who’s planning to aid them in this deceptively simple plan, feels reminiscent of Orin Scrivello in Little Shop of Horrors, except in a more sinister manner rather than satire. It’s a signifier of the struggle it has to balance out the tones of the tragic elements with the comedy, it falls a little too much to the former which doesn’t allow for the timing to always hit the right notes. The relationship between the brothers is also missing a layer of emotion, all the more sentimental themes of them film are dealt with quite coldly, and without the time to give it more context, it feels a little blunt.

The film blends a lot of different cultures, being filmed in southern China and with each cast member coming from a different part of the world, it’s something that’s still relatively unusual, even these days, so it’s great to see. It’s a setting that’s universal, there’s not really any of the locations that feel as though they have to be specifically rooted in that one place, similar examples could easily be found across several different countries which makes the story more accessible. The direction is quite varied, it feels as though Doherty was blending a lot of different styles and some stand out more than others, particularly the moments cut to mix with the sound of the heart-monitor which adds a little bit of tension.

Overall Assistance feels a little unsure of what it’s trying to be, the blend of trying to discuss the ethics of euthanasia with dark comedy comes through a little too roughly mixed together. The general tone struggles to hit upon one strong theme, though it is possible to see the building blocks that went in to creating the story, the execution feels like it’s missing more of a bite to it. It has some raw potential that needs more time to really find its style.

Verdict: ✯✯

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