Review: Eaten by Lions (2018)

Eaten By Lions is not without its flaws but is a delightful mixed bag of humour, relationships and a glimpse of modern family dynamics in Britain today

Eaten by Lions (2018) is an odd one. I can’t decide whether I enjoyed this film or not. Primarily, I’m very confused as to what the film was. It seems to grab at too much, and in doing so drops what it had already been holding. A perfect example of this is the somewhat forced metaphor of The Wolf and The Dog – The Wolf, being free, would rather be at risk of starvation than be The Dog; who is well fed but reliant on the humans who look after him – A classic, right? The problem here is that both protagonists, half-brothers Omar and Pete (Antonio Aakeel and Jack Carroll), are The Dog. And apart from by Aunt Ellen (Vicky Pepperdine) – whose main MO is just being a caricature of a white middle-class racist – they have both been very well looked after.

So who’s The Wolf? Was I The Wolf all along, and was it my freedom to have left early and not stayed to see The Dogs playing out their story? That would’ve been unfair. I was enjoying their journey together. So you see my confusion.

I say the film grabbed for too much, but this may not necessarily be a bad thing because it never grabbed for anything that wasn’t nice. Nice in a way that my Grandmother’s curtains are nice – they’re inoffensive and have no bearing on my attention. The film’s title is literal, the boys parents are in a freak hot air balloon accident that lands them – excuse the incoming pun – in the lions den. They’re go to live with their Gran (Stephanie Fayerman) who eventually dies and leaves Omar details of his estranged father – details that she’d have otherwise kept secret.

So here we go; a buddy road trip movie, set in the bleak landscape of Blackpool, there’ll be highs and lows, near-misses, misunderstandings and eventually reconciliation. But wait, after a trip to a fortune teller (Tom Binns; quite funny but ultimately inconsequential), they find the missing patriarch by simply Googling him. I mean, sure … and to be honest, it’s actually more believable than anything else when you think about it, but now we’re on to something else. A film depicting the relationship of father and son reunited by chance and tragedy – I’m on board, let the emotions flow and the drama begin. Oh, they’re just immediately okay with it? Righto.

I don’t mean to take anything away from the performances here though, all involved; Aakeel, Carroll and Asim Chaudhry (Irfan, the dad) give solid performances – which, given the focus shifts throughout the script, is really something to admire. Chaudhry’s Irfan is a man-child, he’s not dad-material, and he initially runs away – which was funny – but, all too quickly, the film again shifts to everyone acceptance. Before we know it he’s saying that his shop would one day belong to Omar and dancing along on a arcade dance machine it’s all smiles, until eventually he calls up old Aunt Ellen and decides he doesn’t want to dad anymore.

I know this all seems negative, but I did enjoy the film, honestly! It’s funny to see Chaudhry be funny, he steals the show really. There is however, throughout the film a nagging feeling that at any moment the film will cut to a Terry Gilliam animation and we’ll hear “and now for something completely different!” which really kept me on edge in an uncomfortable way.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “but what about a love interest?” And let me assure you, manic pixie dream girl, Amy (Sarah Hoare) fills that role, complete with neon pink hair – check plus plus. This is something I’m certain I didn’t enjoy. A chance meeting at an ice cream truck was nice enough, and I’m happy to believe she would’ve helped them out – when all the boys belongings are washed out to sea – by asking Uncle Ray (Johnny Vegas) to let them stay at his grubby Blackpool hotel for free for as long as they like. But the relationship between Amy and Omar is forced, a little clichéd and unnecessary. This is mostly the script’s fault again, lines like “you’re scared of a lot, aren’t you,” seem a bit out of left field – especially because up to this point it seems like Omar isn’t actually scared of much. He was originally making the highly emotional journey of finding his long lost dad, alone. But the thing that irked me most, was that the line follows a conversation about getting in a tank full of sharks … so naturally – given that sharks historically aren’t the friendliest of fish – this is scary, no? If Omar had opted against having chocolate for a bit of veg, would she have said “you’re cautious of your food intake, aren’t you.” She may as well have! This conversation leads to their first kiss and sets them off on a whirlwind romance of fireworks and the bright lights of Blackpool – for at least 5 minutes of the film anyways. Then that’s done, cross it off the whiteboard, we’re moving on.

The soundtrack of the film was good, it felt quite obviously leading but that helped with the shifts of the film. Switching from romance to a mayhem fuelled romp in a forbidden-to-drive (spoiler: they drive it) car that results in a frat house style party can be quite jarring; so it’s nice to have the soundtrack there to pat you on the head and say, “go with it, it’s just a bit of fun!”

And I think that’s where I’ve settled, this film for all its flaws is ultimately a good bit of fun. The script written by Jason Wingard and David Isaac is weak, but we know that now, so you can just relax in to it and enjoy some delightful performances. Jack Carroll in particular – I previously had no idea about, not being a Britain’s Got Talent fan. What’s well done, is that his cerebral palsy is part of his character but in no way all of, we’re given just enough to understand that it’s okay to laugh along and at no point ever feel sorry for him. Antonio Aakeel gives it a good go of it as well, he’s got an air of likability to him and the simplicity/innocence of his portrayal of Omar is never dull to watch. Asim Chaudhry does what he can with what is really quite a shallow character – he in fact does more than can be excepted, particularly in his final rising-to-responsibility speech to Omar.

The direction by Wingard makes Eaten by Lions seem clunky and unfocused; no thread if fully followed to its potential and all emotion we’re meant to feel are so blatant it’s a little off putting. The film seems unfinished and thrown together in a way, but I suppose that’s part of its charm. Perhaps we’re meant to think that, so too are the relationships we have with our families – nuclear and otherwise. Eaten by Lions warrants a second watch, not to catch things you’ve missed before, but simply to remind yourself what you’d forgotten – the suicidal mute, that’s another bit …

But yeah, I enjoyed it – or did I?

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