Ambition is important, without it there would be no rocket ships, no brain surgery, no Ulsysses, no Sistine Chapel and certainly no mint chocolate chip ice cream. However, at a certain point ambition becomes delusion. Charlie Sheen, for instance, may very well want to drink tiger blood and live forever like some kind of Dorian Gray-lite but, at the end of the day, he’s just an aging coke head guzzling Xango like it really is a youth sustaining elixir bled from the veins of a jungle cat. Patrol Men isn’t quite that certifiable but its ambition, admirable though it may be, largely outweighs its merits.
The plot sits somewhere between The Wicker Man and 1984. Inhabitants of an isolated British isle called Peyton live in fear of a fabled serial killer named Marcus Day. Due to his propensity for offing residents after sundown a curfew is set in place by the island’s insidious Mayor Yorke – a rule enforced by his titular army of gas masked automatons. After a spat between 15 year old Alex and her would-be boyfriend, Jess, the stubborn lad decides to stay out way past his bedtime and is, sure enough, murdered by Day. Or IS he? Cue a predictable series of events that conclude with as much bite as a guppy.
While directors David Campion and Ben Simpson may well believe they are channelling the influence of British Folk Horror and 1940s sci-fi literature, what their film most resembles is M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. It falls down in exactly the same areas; both start with an almost identical central device, lose steam about half way through, reveal the inevitable twist far too early and cumulate in a ‘suprise’ ending that makes about as much sense as a drug addled ‘movie star’ atop an LA rooftop swinging a machete next to a dead eyed porn star– to continue a tacked on metaphor. In fact the only significant difference between the two is that Patrol Men was made on a much smaller budget, that, and the script has an underwater ear for dialogue.
It’s a shame really, we are treated to a couple of fun performances from Jonathan Hansler as Mayor Yorke and Anthony Abuah as Okie (respectively) but they are the exceptions. Even then, there is only so much these actors can do with lines like ‘The world does not revolve on its axis, it revolves on its excess.’ When they aren’t spewing pseudo philosophical nonsense such as that they’re stumbling through clumsy exposition, so clumsy actually that it achieves the exact antithesis of what it sets out to. It confuses and dumbfounds the viewer with poor language and laughable execution from a cast of characters that are emotionally erratic and, paradoxically, wooden.
But what shines throughout, despite the dark cloud of problems that surround it, is a scope of vision. There has obviously been an honest to God attempt to create a rich and believable world. The scenes take place in a variety of appealing found locations. The mayor’s office is pleasingly opulent and the patrolmen’s headquarters is decidedly ominous. What convinces less is the interior of Alex’s home. A lived-in-feel is distinctly lacking and light sources peep out from odd places, tucked behind sofas or perched atop bookcases. Luckily, we’re never there for too long and the locale quickly shifts back to a decaying ruin or constricting schoolyard.
It would be somewhat snobbish to criticise Patrol Men too harshly, it was obviously made with a fervent degree of blood, sweat and passion. But that isn’t enough. For every one thing that works there are three or four others that don’t. To summate a previous statement, the talent is not there to back up the ambition. An admirable if highly problematic effort, Sheen would be proud.