After acting in two of Ben Wheatley’s films – Kill List (2011) and Sightseers (2012) – and co-writing the latter, Steve Oram strikes hard with his first opus as director. Sightseers opened with a long series of moans uttered by the unhappy mother, and here Oram limits his dialogue to just that. The film starts with Oram and Tom Meeten (it would be pointless to give them names, even though each character is duly attributed one in the final credits) crossing the woods and performing a strange ritual of urinating on the picture of an ex-wife or girlfriend without uttering a single intelligible syllable, contenting themselves with expressive grunts and growls. This sets the scene for the remaining 80 minutes. For Aaaaaaaah! is a Planet of the Apes, the other way round. Rather than having the apes evolve to a near human level of civilisation, Oram prefers to bring Londoners down to their very primal selves.
Oram has embarked many of Wheatley’s crew on this low-budget project that manages to fuse two cornerstones of TV broadcasting: soap opera and wildlife documentary. Also caught in the adventure is Julian Rhind-Tutt playing an alpha male scoffing in front of a brand new plasma screen and playing video games; Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding from the surrealistic The Mighty Boosh; and Toyah Willcox, who played Miranda in Derek Jarman’s Tempest (1979) but also, prophetically, Monkey in Quadrophenia (1979), and who plays the leading female part. With Willcox came Robert Fripp, who happens to be her husband and who improvised a bewitching music that advantageously compensates the total absence of articulate dialogue. (And make sure you stay for the final credits if you are a King Crimson fan.)
Seeing Julian Rhind-Tutt going ape is a delight in itself, and most likely a turning point in his career, but beyond the comic effect of the concept, Oram shows how little our behaviour as well as family and social structures have evolved since we were apes ourselves. Although Oram denies any attempt at serious social criticism, the modern consumer society so perfectly fits the animal struggle for food, territory and a dominant position within the group that by the end of the film the rudimentary and limited communication between the characters sounds like an improvement over the compulsive use of the F-word in so many contemporary productions.
With his debut experiment, Oram vindicates the importance of slapstick comedy and fart jokes (aren’t they timeless after all?), and the final TV show compulsively enjoyed by the surviving homicidal outcast heralds tomorrow’s post-reality-television. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!
Watch the trailer: