Gary Raymond reviews La Cha Cha, the new film from Kevin Allen which reunites the cast of his 1997 hit, Twin Town.
There are two marketing hooks for Kevin Allen’s new movie La Cha Cha. Firstly, that it reunites the cast of his 1997 hit debut movie, Twin Town. Secondly, that La Cha Cha has been shot entirely using iPhones. It is difficult to think what either justification adds to the field of cinema, or culture in general, or, even, a decent night in front of the TV. Okay, so Twin Town burned brightly for a while, giving the Cool Cymru lot a Carry on… Trainspotting to embrace, but nobody I know has ever yearned for a sequel, at least not outside of the raggedy-arsed bubble of the Laugharne Weekend festival, which, now I come to think of it, for a few decades has been the piss up weekend of choice for middle-aged men who thought Twin Town not having a sequel was a crime against humanity. It may be my imagination, but I don’t think a year has gone by without some form of script-in-hand reading performed for people slipping off their stools in the upstairs room of The Fountain.
The essential connection between Laugharne and Twin Town seems to be Keith Allen, who hosts the annual pub quiz at the festival and who played an unsuspecting mushroom-taking farmer in the ’97 film. He represented for some time the more famous face of the Allen clan (until daughter Lilly came along and had hit records, and son Alfie got a lead part in Game of Thrones – it’s good to see the children not paying for the sins of the parents). But anybody who has ever gotten lost for a few days at the Laugharne Weekend, at least in the Keith Allen end of things, will already have a pretty good idea of what to expect from La Cha Cha. It’s messy, not very funny, and you come away from it wondering if you’re not just getting a little too old for this shit.
The second marketing hook, though — that it has been filmed entirely on iPhones — has none of the redeeming features of a fucked-up weekend in Laugharne. All power to his elbow if Kevin Allen has managed to turn a crippling budget constraint into the second line of his press release, but if it was a creative decision then it was the wrong one. The use of the phone camera has rendered every single frame oddly flat, and disconcertingly inert considering the inherent mobility of the erm… mobile phone. It also looks suspiciously like only one phone was used so staggered and lumpen is the editing, actors often delivering lines as if to no-one, cut off from the basic energising effect of interplay. I found myself scratching my head that this was made by the same guy who brought such crass energy and puerile fun to the feel of Twin Town. We are told that La Cha Cha became a project for Allen’s film students during the listless days of lockdown, and whereas that is to be applauded, you can at least admit that on screen there is clear evidence of a lack of a guiding hand.
But that’s the tech, and a failed experiment should at least have the respect for it being an experiment, even if the failure of it makes for an unsettling viewing experience. The story, for what it’s worth, is of the innocent-interloper-gets-caught-up-in-local-illegal-hijinx variety. Liam Hourican’s Solti is on a trip to scatter his father’s ashes in deepest darkest Wales when low petrol sends him to the La Cha Cha caravan park for a night’s layover. He finds the place strangely therapeutic (to each their own) and decides to stay a few more nights to soak up some of the camp’s end-of-the-world hallucinogenic fever dream vibe. It’s like Boring Liam Beyond Thunderdome. Once you get past the clogging camera work, and the feeling this is a film made by some people understandably desperate for something to do during lockdown other than smoke skunk, there is something of the spectacle about it. Images you’re not expecting — and not always welcoming — frequently come up on screen, and flashes of the director’s flare for a joke that made Twin Town so popular sound off like echoes of a half-remembered pub fight from your youth.
The cast put up quite the effort, trying to inject some kinetic energy as you watch them struggle around the interior — and often outside the parameters — of the frame. It’s like watching the events unfold not on a screen but through a letterbox. Every moment is splattered with interminable organ music like Margarita Pracatan is hiding under the floorboards or behind a bush or up a tree. The rabble of other campers starts off eclectic and eccentric but watching this sober and straight it slowly begins to feel like Rob Zombie Goes Camping. Ruby Ashbourne Serkis is good as the camp owner, Libby, and Boyd Clack lends a bit of class and genuine good humour, but this is no holiday, and with characters given names such as Lance Boyle, Mrs Fruitcake and Brenda Whippy, it’s a strangely mirthless affair.
For showtimes and more information on Kevin Allen’s La Cha Cha, visit the Film Hub Wales website.
Gary Raymond is a novelist, critic, broadcaster, and editor of Wales Arts Review.