The World We Knew (2020) Review
The opening of The World We Knew coincides with the opening of a van’s side door and the words “It’s time.” Over the credits we hear, but don’t see, the sound of an armed robbery. While some may be bothered by the heist being off-screen, it’s a quick and efficient no-budget way to start the movie.
We soon learn that the robbery went badly leaving a cop and one of the gang dead. Another of the robbers, HP (Simon Rhodes, Charismata, Screwed) was badly wounded, perhaps fatally. As he fights for his life the others, Eddie (Alex Wells), Gordon (Johann Myers, Undergods, The Wheel of Time), Barker (Struan Rodger, Kill List, Chariots of Fire), Stoker (Kirk Lake, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Over & Over) and Carpenter (Finbar Lynch, The Numbers Station, Child 44) roam the abandoned manor house they’re holed up in and ponder who could have tipped off the police and what should be their next move.
If this sounds a bit familiar don’t worry, directors Luke Skinner and Matthew Benjamin Jones, working from a script by Jones and Kirk Lake have more ambitious plans for their first feature than another rehash of Reservoir Dogs. The World We Knew takes its cast of gangster archetypes, Eddie is the new addition as well as the one who shot the cop, Gordon is the boxer turned criminal, Carpenter is the leader, etc. and lets the isolation bring out their inner demons.
They also have another member of the cast whose presence really isn’t felt until later in the film, the house itself and the presence that dwells inside. Or maybe there are no spirits beyond the ones in the bottles they’re emptying. Maybe it’s the booze, the cocaine and a lot of guilty consciences that are manifesting themselves rather than the supernatural. Rather than being the typical gangster-themed horror film like Innocent Blood, I’ll Take Your Dead or Gangsters, Guns & Zombies, The World We Knew is a quiet film more in line with Saloum. It deals in unease and atmosphere more than overt scares or violence.
That means for most of its length, The World We Knew is a collection of character studies driven by dialogue and strong performances from the cast. Who ratted them out and the possibility that the house is haunted are treated as plot elements rather than the center of the story up until the last fifteen or so minutes. And the answer to at least one of those questions is left until literally the film’s final shot.
The filmmakers were lucky to have found the location that The World We Knew was shot in. An actual abandoned home that dates back to the 16th century it oozes atmosphere and looks like the kind of place you would expect ghosts to dwell in. Cinematographer Laurens Scott (Mister Biscuits, Mudman) exploits the dark corners, flickering lights and empty grounds around it nicely. Along with the odd but effective score by the band The Limiñanas (The Last Days of American Crime, A Beautiful Summer) it gives the film a creepy vibe that underscores its more mundane events. That feeling is what keeps the film at least genre adjacent even in its most down to Earth moments.
And I used genre rather than horror for a reason. The film never truly turns into a horror film in the sense of having jump scares or obvious monsters. Be they ghosts or hallucinations the spectres the characters see look like normal humans, not special effects. It’s more like a quiet ghost story that avoids outright shock scenes to the point that when the policeman Eddie shot appears to him he bears no wounds. I did find that odd as I would suspect whether a haunting from the grave or a guilty conscience it would rub those wounds in his face.
A promising feature debut for much of the crew as well as Alex Wells whose first film it is, The World We Knew should appeal to those who like quiet, though not artsy, scares. Others may find the lack of scares or gangster acter a disappointment.
The World We Knew will be available for streaming in the UK on March 20th via High Flier Films, it’s already available in the US. You can check the film’s Twitter feed for more details. You can also check FilmTagger for more films in the same vein.