Known for his menacing portrayals as an actor, Neil Maskell has stepped behind the scenes to write and direct his first feature film. Titled Klokkenluider, which is Dutch for whistleblower, the comedy thriller follows civil servant Ewan (Amit Shah) and his partner Silke (Sura Dohnke) who are sent to a secluded farmhouse in Belgium after the former accidentally uncovers a huge government secret. They await the arrival of a journalist in order to tell their story and are joined by close protection officers Benjamin (Roger Evans) and Kevin (Tom Burke), assigned to provide security from any potential threats of danger or unwanted attention.
An intimate production with just a handful of characters and a few locations, Maskell quickly crafts an unnerving tone which ebbs and flows with the waves of tension in the tautly written narrative. As the offbeat relationships between the foursome develop, crucial moments are amplified by alarmingly strange sound design from Martin Pavey, a regular collaborator of Ben Wheatley who has a producing role in this.
The film possesses the dark indie edge we’ll associate with the filmmaker from his work on-screen, but there’s a political anger in the script that makes for a heady mix with its jet-black comic style. Cunning camerawork smartly illustrates the subtle shifts in power between the couple and their bodyguards, and the dynamic is shaken up by the electric introduction of a foul-mouthed reporter, played by an enjoyably off-piste Jenna Coleman in a hugely suspenseful third act.
There’s a looming sense of cynicism and distrust towards authority and the media at the core of the film, and this seeps into the central quartet of brilliant, nuanced performances. It’s never made definitively clear where loyalties lie, and this imbues the conversations with a merciless unpredictability. Burke and Evans revel in the droll humour of their bond which toys with genre tropes of the dysfunctional duo, whereas Shah and Dohnke ground the tale in a humanity that never loses grip of the seriousness of the plot.
An assured and accomplished directorial debut from Neil Maskell, Klokkenluider is terrifically economical with its truth, and executed with a striking flair.