downhillAs a style of filmmaking that has been severely overcooked in the horror genre, spawning a variety of unoriginal, hackneyed productions, handheld footage has certainly served comedy somewhat more favourably. It simply has so much scope to it in such a department, provoking realism and encouraging improvisation. With the likes of This Is Spinal Tap illuminating the sub-genre, and The Office and The Thick of It also triumphing on the smaller screen, James Rouse has followed on in their footsteps with his amiable debut production, Downhill.

The film explores four old school friends and now middle-aged men, reuniting to embark on a coast to coast walk. Gordon (Richard Lumsden) is the ringleader, bringing together Keith (Karl Theobald), Steve (Jeremy Swift) and Julian (Ned Dennehy) for this arduous, yet enlightening adventure, while his young son documents the entire journey on film.

Where Downhill truly shines, is within the naturalistic approach taken, as the actors come into their element, evidently comfortable shooting in such a way. All four of the leads must be commended in this department, as the chemistry is palpable and the dialogue so effortless and fluent. However Rouse ensures this piece does what many comedies do, which is to offer a heightened take on a reality and yet remain believable, finding a perfect balance between the two notions. Though this may delve into somewhat melodramatic territory at times, it never feels overstated, you only need to watch a real documentary like Dig! to know that sometimes real life can be rather theatrical at times, to say the least.

The film does dip somewhat in the middle stages though, growing slightly tedious as a structure is formed, whereby our protagonists walk and complain during the day, then drink and complain during the night. However when the two female characters, played by Emma Pierson and Katie Lyons enter into proceedings, the picture picks up dramatically, paving the way for some comical character developments. Suddenly we see a different side to these four men – as they act differently, and while some are subtle, Julian desperately hopes to impress their new friends.

The character arcs are well judged in this title, and when they each embark on their own respective emotional journeys, we abide by it and care for them, as they’ve earned such a privilege form the viewer with substantial introductions in the early stages, where we’ve got to know them so well. They’re flawed, certainly, with Julian at the forefront of such a notion, but you never hate them. Rouse manages to keep you on side throughout, in spite of their distinct imperfections. The film does grow to become more poignant as we progress too, as themes explored through their conversations are often profound, with nostalgia, family and friendships discussed in length. They all play out brilliantly against the serene, picturesque backdrop of Northern England, similarly to how TV series The Trip manages. Also similarly to The Tip, this treads that line between comedy and drama so well, and while not a laugh out loud comedy as such, it’s sure to be one that leaves you with a big grin smacked across your face.

Downhill just brings out that inner immaturity in all of is, showing that despite the fact we all grow up and take on new responsibilities, we tend not to truly change, and this captures that young at heart spirit – and in such a subtle matter. What isn’t quite so subtle, is the completely superfluous use of cliched, animated musical interludes to break up scenes, not to mentioned the needless throwing in of old home footage. It’s a shame to see this relatively unique film abide by convention, but it’s a small blemish on an otherwise accomplished piece of cinema.


Downhill is available on DVD and digital platforms from the 16th June.