When considering Norfolk pumpkin farms, one rarely thinks “oppressive” or “Sean Harris needs an ASBO”, but Guy Myhill’s directorial debut prompts thoughts of both, in this haunting yet captivating coming-of-age story.
After leaving school, Goob (Liam Walpole) finds himself trapped in the Fens, despairing over his mother Janet’s (Sienna Guillory) abusive boyfriend and stock-car racer Gene (Sean Harris). It speaks volumes about their relationship when Gene hospitalises Goob’s brother after they take his car out for a joy-ride and she, seemingly, completely sides with Gene. Goob is quickly drafted into spending his days working on the farms and his nights watching over them, resulting in his passing out from being overworked. He begins to dream of freedom when he starts seeing Eva (Marama Corlett), a migrant worker on Gene’s farms, but must first take action against the harmful influences in his life.
Gene’s domineering character creates an intense feeling of claustrophobia that is noticeable in almost every scene in the film, including those he is absent from, despite the vastness of the Norfolk countryside. As an introduction to the character, he is seen causing another stock-car driver to crash in order to secure his own victory, followed by a scene in which he coarsely tells Goob that he is going to sleep with Janet. The performance by Harris is uncomfortable to say the least, comparable to the nameless entity that perpetually stalks the main characters in David Robert Mitchell’s horror It Follows (2014); he appears out of nowhere, always hinting at threats of more than physical violence. Indeed, his effect is mostly psychological, and he is a more effective villain because of it.
Goob’s distinct lack of verbal interaction meshes with his aimless wandering; he instead impersonates animals, notably livestock, fitting with his role as a producer of Gene’s commodities, thought of as having no autonomy of his own. When he does manage to follow his own path, he goes on two dates that are devoid of any dialogue. The second, with Eva, becomes a celebration of youth, lyrically woven with pagan-like undertones that contrast with the violent roars of the stock-car engines, which are, for all intents and purposes, manifestations of male sexual aggressiveness. Perhaps an unintended side-effect of Goob’s silence, however, is that he becomes a less interesting character than Gene, Harris stealing the spotlight more often than not. Walpole does not look fully confident in his role, but it is an auspicious start for the newcomer.
What truly evokes the film’s haunting atmosphere are the numerous long shots of the Norfolk countryside, which manage to be both expansive and restricting at the same time. The farm is where Eva and Goob first meet, yet it is also where the titular character must spend his nights in a make-shift watch-post dug into the ground, only slightly roomier than a grave. Occasional shots of Goob driving a motorcycle reveal the only freedom he really has: the freedom to leave and be independent if he can find the willpower to leave it all behind. All of this, in combination with Goob’s latent ethereality, allows Myhill to create a dreamlike, expressive piece that surprises with its complexity.
With a surprisingly dark atmosphere, Myhill’s The Goob manages to capture the existential aimlessness of a young man yearning for more than he is forced to take. Myhill is certainly one to look out for in the coming years if this is the quality of his debut.