As A Prelude to Fear
15 May 2022
Steph Du Melo
Steph Du Melo & Roger Wyatt
Francis Magee, Lara Lemon, Lucy Drive
Cellist, Eve Taylor (Lara Lemon), is the latest in a series of women to be reported missing. Chief Detective Barnbrooke (Francis Magee) takes up the case as he believes the circumstances fit the modus operandi of ‘The Pied Piper’, a serial killer he failed to catch several years earlier.
Back in 1997 there was an Alan Partridge gag where Steve Coogan’s comedy alter ego hopelessly attempts to pitch a new regional detective show to the BBC, only to be told that the market is too crowded. Twenty-five years later and the landscape has not changed much. Meaning anyone risking a foray into the genre has a difficult task on their hands to try and create something unique. And As A Prelude to Fear does not rise to the challenge.
Despite opening with the statement ‘Based on real events’, it quickly becomes apparent that it is an untruth as Steph Du Melo’s film so snugly fits the mould of the run of the mill detective drama. Barnbrooke is the archetypal dejected, aging detective hunting criminals on gut instinct alone. He does most of his sleuthing from behind a desk, bitterly snapping at his subordinate Detective Dobson (Lucy Drive) whilst she does all of the legwork. Meanwhile, Eve Taylor is held captive and tortured in the dungeon of the killer. As she plots her escape she hears voices through the gaps in the walls, other victims that encourage her to give in to the will of their captor. By adhering so closely to the standardised narrative formula of the genre it means that As A Prelude to Fear easily falls into tired tropes which feel outdated and to be frank, misogynistic.
After ninety minutes of fairly standard dramatic detecting comes maybe the most outrageous moment in the film. Just before the credits director Steph Du Melo takes time to remind the audience of the shocking number of missing persons in the UK and across the Globe. As the camera glides over forestry and accompanied by a haunting vocal soundscape, the figures appear: ‘Approximately 327,000 missing people reports are made to UK police each year’, ‘France over 39,000 missing every year’, etc. Now, this reviewer does not want to make statements as to the director’s intent, but how it comes across is as a disingenuous and insulting way of elevating the contents of a fictional film by leeching off of real world suffering. One could forgive (more likely forget) the miscalculated use of the ‘Based on a true story’ trick that the Coen brothers used on their madcap caper Fargo, but when the film ends with a statement suggesting that ‘no-one wants to talk about’ missing people it really sours the experience.
As A Prelude to Fear is a traditional detective story with little determination to carve out it’s own space in a crowded genre. Unfortunately, the biggest takeaway is the bitter aftertaste it leaves with an ill-fitting attempt to relate it to real world social issues.