A version of this review appeared in The Age, July 12, 2012.
Over the last decade, the Scottish director David Mackenzie has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. In films such as Young Adam and Hallam Foe, he's specialised in exploring the murky side of desire, the way that anti-social impulses can abruptly take control of the psyche and just as swiftly fade away.
There's an “ambient” quality to Mackenzie's work, in which emotional heavy weather is often mirrored by the rugged Scottish climate. Like a musician, he aims to set an intangibly seductive mood – and though You Instead is almost a throwaway film by his standards, it makes sense he should gravitate to a story where music is front and centre.
Scripted by the artist-turned-writer Thomas Leveritt and shot in five days at the T In The Park rock festival, this guerrilla-style romantic comedy uses a deliberately perfunctory plot device to connect its main characters, both fictional pop stars: Adam (Luke Treadaway) is one half of an electro duo, while Morello (Natalia Tena) is lead singer of a all-girl punk band.
When the pair get into a meaningless squabble in the carpark, a preacher-cum-security-guard (played by the gospel singer Al Green) turns up for just long enough to handcuff them to each other. Adam and Morello spend the next twenty-four hours hunting for this mysterious figure, while preparing for their performances, trying to explain the situation to their respective partners and bickering all the way.
It sounds like a Love Actually subplot and in most hands would have been a recipe for disaster Mackenzie's approach is simply to take the project as seriously as possible: he isn't interested in looking trendy, nor does he have Richard Curtis' knack for bathetic sitcom gags. Plunging us into the real-life chaos of the festival – to the point where the ad-libbed dialogue is often hard to decipher – he asks us to share the emotions of the vast crowds in search of excitement and release.
In between there are exhilarating quieter moments: a circling camera movement looking out from a ferris wheel at night, a blues song jointly improvised by Adam and Morello on the one guitar. Still more intimate is a later scene where the leads – still handcuffed – are covered in mud and have to squeeze fully clothed into a narrow shower cubicle. Perhaps only Mackenzie could make this a plausible image of ideal romance.