Harold's Going Stiff Reviews
It's a quirky twist on the zombie myth - in fact I'd say the zombie aspect takes a backseat as more of an analogy for dementia, or a similar degenerative disease. At times I was reminded of the recent series In The Flesh, also set in a rural Northern English town, utilising the zombie theme to deal with wider social issues.
The relationship between Penny and Harold is so natural and believable it's heartbreaking. It's what Gervais wishes he'd managed in his series Derek. The way it was handled was artful.
And the performances were, on the whole, brilliant. Sarah Spencer (Penny) and Stan Rowe (Harold) in particular were wonderful. They managed the naturalistic style of acting exceptionally well.
I'd guess a lot of the low scores are a result of people expecting some Sam Raimi spectacle with blood and guts everywhere. Providing you don't go into this expecting another Shaun Of The Dead, and instead expect a very small-scale, character-driven comedy drama on a shoe- string budget, I think you'll find something to enjoy. This is meant for the small screen!
The film lifts itself above its group in other ways too. Never in a zombie film have I seen the process of turning into a zombie tackled, I've also never seen such likable characters either; and I've never seen such naturalistic performances in other zombie films.
Harold's Going Stiff is wonderfully original, extremely funny and very, very enjoyable. What a breath of fresh air!
The surprising winner of the five films I watched this work-from-home Tuesday: Harold's Going Stiff, which I expected to be another brainless zombedy (not that there's anything wrong with that), but ended up being a touching mockumentary combined with a savage satire of Britain's healthcare system. Don't get me wrong, there are funny bits, especially revolving around the characters who, had Wright had the budget for A-list actors, would have been Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, but there's a lot more under the hood here.
Plot: there's a new disease going round that turns people into zombies. Not that anyone in Health Services is going to use the word "zombie". But pensioner Harold Gimble (Stan Rowe in his first feature appearance) has it, and he's starting to suffer the consequences (the early stages of the disease seem quite a bit like dementia-this may be a comedy, but it's an uncomfortable one indeed). Harold goes through a slew of nurse before being assigned Penny Rudge (Sarah Spencer in her first, but hopefully not her last, screen appearance), a lonely nurse who has the patience and humanity to put up with Harold's social awkwardness and forgetfulness. Eventually, the two of them become friends of a sort, and Penny starts helping Harold navigate through the seemingly endless maze of the health care system. Meanwhile, a couple of overzealous zombie hunters also get some screen time, being interviewed about the changing face of British culture, and if it's predictable that these two storylines are going to come crashing together eventually, well, so what?
This is a wonderful little movie-I gave it three and a half stars but gave it a miss on the Thousand-Best list back when I was doing that month's revisions; time and distance have made me revisit the idea that it belongs with the three-and-a-half star movies that qualify, and it may show up there in the near future. Both Rowe and Spencer are perfect for their parts, and certainly deserve more exposure than they've gotten so far, while Wright (Take Me to Your Leader), who also wrote, has a fine eye for satire and a willingness to play things for laughs that most other directors would not-but balances that with as much heart as necessary to make this a movie that will stay with you far more for its empathy than its comedy long after you've finished watching it. There are a few minor places it could have used a bit more polish (e.g., the final sentence in the last paragraph above), but all of them are, ultimately, minor niggles in a movie that deserves far more recognition than it has received. *** 1/2
Both completely heartwarming yet also heartbreaking wonderful stuff.