Film review: EcstasyBy Kim Francis
April 25, 2012
When Danny Boyle first injected his screen incarnation of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting into the public bloodstream back in the mid-Nineties, it had audiences buzzing like never before.
A grittily realistic Scottish drama about heroin addiction, it certainly didn’t pull any punches in its depiction of the harrowingly vacant lives of a group of smack heads.
Now, 16 years after the publication of Welsh’s follow-up book Ecstasy (a collection of three short stories), Canadian director Rob Heydon has finally seen his own labour of love make it to moviedom (he secured the movie rights to Welsh’s book back in 2000), presumably with grand hopes of affecting audiences in a similar way.
Set against the backdrop of dance music and the clubbing scene, Heydon’s Ecstasy finds itself batting off unfair yet inevitable comparisons to Boyle’s breakthrough feature but does a sterling job of distinguishing itself in the way it’s told.
At the same time, Heydon sees no shame in riding on the forerunner’s coat tails – the same artist has created both distinctive posters for one thing – if it helps find an audience for the film into which he’s invested so much time, effort and money.
At heart, Heydon’s Ecstasy is a warm-the-cockles tale of love with an overarching comic tone and a far less fatalistic – and depressing -– message than its progenitor; the Scottish setting and narcotics-related narrative are really where the similarities end.
It eschews Boyle’s predilection for magic realism to make way for a focus on the tender and touching relationship that forms between the two leads, and to avoid compromising the integrity of the grittier drug-centred aspects.
By the end of the film, main protagonist and quasi-antihero Lloyd (Adam Sinclair) finds himself redeemed by love, having become trapped in a cycle of drug-running from Amsterdam and nightly partying with a group of friends that includes Woodsy (Billy Boyd), Ally (Keram Malicki Sanchez) and Hazel (Olivia Andrup).
The film explores ecstasy, first as a drug and the chemically-induced feelings it produces, universalising the ‘artificial highs’ theme with an accompanying commentary on alcohol, and then measures it against the natural high – the ecstasy – of falling in love.
The careful balance of menace and lightness means the film never tips over into an utterly desolate portrait of drug culture and yet it anchors the film firmly enough in reality to maintain a ‘could happen’ feel when the eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room fairytale romance kicks in.
Sweet and affecting, the relationship that builds between Lloyd and troubled Canadian beauty Heather (Kristin Kreuk) is characterised by elements we can identify with – shyness, awkwardness, a certain look in the eye and a gallant gesture – allowing us to believe in the love affair completely and permitting us to feel moved by it.
Complete with scenes that make us wince and squirm, as well as those that make us smile and smirk, Ecstasy is a commendable debut from a Canadian director who has great affection for his Scottish subject matter.