Scotsman Irvine Welsh became a literary sensation in Britain with the publication of his first novel, Trainspotting; and Danny Boyle's film version of this depressing look at the underbelly of Edinburgh brought Welsh fame in America as well. Now director Paul McGuigan makes his feature debut with an adaptation of Welsh's The Acid House.
However, this is an anthology film -- three discrete stories taken from the book, one of which was broadcast separately on British television. (There are a few minor interconnections between the sections.) This time around, Welsh has written the screenplay himself.
In terms of setting and characters, The Acid House is more of the same. Like Trainspotting, it's set in dreary North Edinburgh, which, if Welsh is to be trusted, is almost completely populated by junkies, pimps, drug dealers, hoods and terminally disaffected working-class youths -- irredeemable losers all, some vile, some sympathetic.
The Acid House.
"The Granton Star Cause," the first story, shows the rapid decline of a poor schmo named Boab (pronounced Bob) Coyle (Stephen McCole). In one day, everything that makes his existence bearable is taken away from him: You'd think that God had set out on a vendetta against him, but that's not the case.
And we know it isn't, because just when it seems as though things can't get any worse, God himself (Maurice Roëves) shows up and explains why it's all Boab's own doing, which pisses God off so much that he now does take action against him. Yet in some way, God's wrath pushes Boab into developing the very qualities he previously lacked.
Part two, "A Soft Touch," centers on an even more hapless hero, Johnny (Kevin McKidd), who tries so hard to please that he ends up being mercilessly exploited by everyone.
In part three, "The Acid House," a rude, crude, violent half-wit (Ewen Bremner) drops acid and mysteriously switches bodies with a newborn, thoroughly baffling all his friends as well as the baby's bourgie mom (Jemma Redgrave).
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Despite the similarities to Trainspotting and the equally negative worldview, McGuigan's film is in many ways easier to take. Both the first and third stories are basically in the tradition of magical realism; the fantasy, even when it's brutal, lightens the tone. (The middle tale is the least fantastic and, by the end, the least interesting.)
Trainspotting had its share of flashy devices, but McGuigan's approach is even jazzier. The Acid House isn't as kinetic and hard-charging as Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run, but it points in that direction. It's full of deliberately distracting cinematic tricks: psychedelic montages, distorted camera perspectives, time-lapse photography, pseudo-slow-motion "step-printed" sequences. The soundtrack is incredibly eclectic -- pounding industrial music rubbing shoulders with easy-listening tunes and two or three other genres. The standout stuff is from the fabulous Barry Adamson, who also did tracks for Lost Highway.
The Acid House is subtitled, and it's a good thing. If the accents here are authentic, then Trainspotting must not have been. On the few occasions when the subtitles drop out, 50 percent of the dialogue is incomprehensible.
The style largely trumps the depressing subject matter, so that, strangely enough, The Acid House is a lot of fun. But it definitely won't suit everyone's taste. The film is unrated but bears an "adults only" warning, which is only fair: There are some disgusting (but admittedly funny) shit jokes, instances of full frontal nudity and more "language" than any film this side of South Park. Some of the vernacular is omitted from the subtitles, which is plain silly: The dialogue may be tough for American ears to decipher, but "fuck" cuts through even the thickest dialects.