It was Halloween last night, and that called for a suitably scary horror genre film. As it happened, British independent film Storage 24 seemed to fit the bill nicely.
Let’s be honest from the start and admit that this is not the most original of films: it’s essentially a haunted house movie with the part of the ghost played by a ravenous extra-terrestrial predator. Or to put it another way: it’s another in a long line of Alien-inspired clones (with an interesting diversion at one point into Die Hard-ism) that follows all the familiar tropes of that specific genre – such as people stupidly wondering off on their own to investigate strange movements and noises – and frequently feels more like an overly slavish homage than a fresh effort in its own right.
But it does have a few original things going for it, not least the setting: the haunted house in question here is one of those soulless long-term storage facilities, and the film makes great use of the visual imagery of those unsettlingly blank, eerie steel corridors receding into blackness. It’s very well shot by director Johannes Roberts, whose visual style is one of the high points of the film and ensures that even with a rock-bottom budget the events actually on screen never look cheap. And a word of praise also for the sound design, which is consistently top-notch and plays an unsettling blinder throughout.
Into this is introduced our ensemble. The originality here is that they are all very ordinary everyday South Londoners, with the central couple of Charlie (Noel Clarke from Doctor Who and Kidulthood) and Shelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) in the middle of a painfully ordinary and familiar break-up requiring the re-division of their shared belongings from the storage unit. Add to this an assortment of supportive (or not) friends on either side plus some staff at the storage facility and you have a cast that manages to establish identifiable and distinctive characters better than many films of this ilk, and the film even manages to take several of them on development arcs that, while not exactly earth shattering, at least adds more dimension than you’d expect. Admittedly, the writing and acting is still only a notch or two up from the average episode of Hollyoaks.
What sets this apart from the majority of the Alien clones is its Britishness, that it’s trying to do a Hollywood-style sci-fi horror film on an incredibly tight budget and shooting in Wandsworth. That immediately puts it right into the territory taken in 2011 by Attack the Block, which is by far the stronger, more assured and ambitious film of the two.
The creature design is like every other horror alien we’ve seen for the last two decades. Where Attack the Block got around the inevitable budget limitations of British sci-fi efforts by not explicitly showing the alien menace, Storage 24 sinks a large portion of its cash into some reasonably convincing creature FX (what looks to be slightly rubbery CGI, or else a man in a rubbery suit augmented with CGI) and some appropriately gory prosthetic make-up for the victims. That does mean that elsewhere its limited budget results in some quite painfully obvious cost-cutting, and too many things that the film simply cannot afford to put on screen.
In the end, as is typical with such films, it unravels quite badly in the final reel. The people who live and those end up victims are exactly who you would expect; the last scene ‘sting’ is a particular shocker both in terms of its ‘WTF?’ premise and poor CGI execution. Even the delightfully underplayed deadpan dry humour that permeated the first half of the film starts to get misjudged, with the whole thing starting to poke fun at itself – for example, with the way that the protagonists take the fight to the creature. The arrival of a new character halfway through badly breaks the carefully built-up London-urban believability of the ensemble by introducing the type of bizarre eccentric who only lives in comedy films.
Overall, it’s interesting to see the varying reactions this film gets from critics: IMDb scores it as 4.3/10 and has some scathing user reviews (but also a couple of very positive ones); Rotten Tomatoes gives it a similar 42%; the Radio Times and the Guardian both give it four stars out of five with the latter calling it “unexpectedly entertaining”, but the Daily Mail gives it just one star out of five and says that it is “tired and bereft of ideas.”
You pays your money and takes your choice as to which group you fall into yourself, obviously. All in all, Storage 24 is a film that knows its young audience and should appeal well to them, while alienating (in every respect) those it’s already decided that it will never win over. But on the grounds of supporting British independent filmmaking and particularly in order to encourage Britain’s movie talent to try films outside the usual ‘safe’ genres of period dramas and rom-coms, do take it for a low-expectation test drive if you think it’s remotely your sort of flick.
As for myself, I’ll give it 2.5 stars out of five – maybe 3 if I’m in a particularly good mood – but it’s not going to live long in my memory for all of its stronger points. It has made me want to go and rewatch Attack the Block again, however. (See the 2011 review for that film here.)