The Movie Waffler Tribeca Film Festival 2024 Review - RESTLESS | The Movie Waffler

Tribeca Film Festival 2024 Review - RESTLESS

A noisy neighbour drives a woman to take extreme measures.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jed Hart

Starring: Lyndsey Marshal, Aston McAuley, Barry Ward, Kate Robbins, Denzel Baidoo, Ciara Ford

I've always been uncomfortable with the idea of a "Karen." The internet revels in sharing "gotcha" footage of women freaking out in public, but we're only seeing a tiny fragment of those women's lives. We have no idea what they might be going through when a camera isn't pointed in their faces at their lowest moments. While I have no sympathy for any women that might get caught using racial slurs or abusing customer service employees, I do find it a little suspect how it always seems to be women captured in these videos. Just as short men who assert themselves are likely to be compared to Napoleon, female assertion is often conflated with aggression. Women usually have to speak louder, sometimes even shout or scream to be heard. Look behind every Karen and you'll probably find a man who made her that way.

There are several moments in Jed Hart's stellar directorial debut Restless that might lead to its female protagonist, Nicky (Lyndsey Marshal), being caught out of context and labelled a Karen. She freaks out in public several times and if one particular instance happened to leak onto the web, she'd likely be wrongly framed as a racist and have her life destroyed. But the film makes us privy to everything that leads Nicky to lose it, and behind this potential Karen is one awful, awful man.

At the point we meet Nicky she's already worn out, thanks to a job as a carer at a nursing home that regularly requires her to work on her days off thanks to short staffing. With such a stressful day job, Nicky places great emphasis on relaxing in the evening. Soundtracked by the soothing sounds of a classical radio station, Nicky indulges in her passion for baking, cuddles her cat Ritchie, and watches that most relaxing of sport, snooker, before going to bed with peaceful nature sounds playing in her headphones. It all looks like the very definition of cosy bliss.

Nicky's tranquil routine is disrupted when a young man, Deano (Aston McAuley), moves into the council house next door, which had previously been occupied by Nicky's late parents. On the first night Deano throws a party, blasting loud dance music into the early hours of the following morning. Nicky is understandably pissed off, but she assumes it's simply a one-off housewarming party. This proves wildly optimistic as the next night Deano throws another all-nighter, and refuses to turn the music down at Nicky's request. It soon becomes clear that Nicky is going to have to put up with this nuisance on a nightly basis, as neither the police nor the council are willing to get involved.

Initially terrified of the imposing and threatening Deano, Nicky makes compromises to get a decent night's sleep, ranging from sleeping in her car to agreeing to go on a date with hapless parking attendant Kevin (a hilarious Barry Ward), to whom she is far from attracted but who offers a quiet bed. But as the internet has taught us, you don't fuck with a woman's cat, and when Ritchie disappears and Nicky assumes Deano and his mates are responsible, she decides to fight back.

Restless is a strikingly assured directorial debut. Displaying remarkable confidence in his craft, Hart takes what in most hands would be a standard piece of gritty British social realism and elevates the story with a bag of cinematic tricks that never clashes with the everyday drama. Recent low budget British dramas like Scrapper and Hoard have integrated surreal elements in a way that distracts from the gritty drama, but Hart manages to pull off this balancing act thanks largely to the increasingly deranged psychology of his protagonist. Hart employs expressionist sequences to convey Nicky's addled mind, like how Deano's banging music weaves its way into one of her peaceful dreams or a scene in which Nicky's entire house begins to throb and shake as though a T-Rex was approaching. The film integrates its sound design in a manner that becomes integral to the storytelling, contrasting Nicky's chilled out world of Classic FM and Ken Doherty's monotone snooker commentary with the constant thud, thud, thud of Deano's sound system. So effective is the sound that I began to worry that my own neighbours might think I was throwing a Deano-style party.

For all of Hart's brilliant directorial touches, as is usually the case with low budget British cinema it's the performances here that create the most lasting impact. A long-time supporting player, Marshal excels in the lead role of Nicky. She conveys Nicky's physical and mental deterioration so effectively that simply looking at her knackered features will have you stifling a yawn. Deano is a rather one-note villain but McAuley is convincingly unhinged as the epitome of the nightmare neighbour next door. Hart follows Hitchcock's guidance that even the darkest story needs moments of comic relief by casting the usually deadpan Ward ingeniously against type as the cringey Kevin.

That Hart manages to meld elements of social realism, black comedy and psychological thriller into such a satisfying concoction is a remarkable feat for such a first-timer. His script is cleverly constructed and filled with so many satisfying pay-offs that it could be taught in screenwriting classes as an example of low budget storytelling. The drama may play out in the relatively mundane settings of a couple of council houses, but Restless feels expansive and larger than life while also being all too relatable for any viewers who have found themselves struggling to get a decent night's kip. Don't sleep on this one.