Here is a vision of domestic hell. Paul (Jamie Michie) and Michelle’s (Miranda Nolan) marriage is all but broken, as is their relationship with daughters Kelly (Lily-Rose Aslandogdu), a recalcitrant 12-year-old, and Yakira (Ruby Barker), a young adult whose biological mother, Paul’s first wife, died of cancer. We’re given only hints as to how they fell into this nadir, but the damage seems beyond repair.
Their every exchange is crippled by snide remarks and petty disagreements. We see this when Paul sits the family down and announces that he will be moving out. Despite his calm, measured tone, Paul’s attempt at consensus is derailed by passive aggression from Michelle, churlish outbursts from Kelly, and hysterical bemusement from Yakira. It’s a skillful moment in which director Ed Morris builds a crescendo of anxiety, giving you an authentic snapshot of total, miserable dysfunction.
Suffocated by this malaise, Yakira takes drastic action. In the small hours of the morning, she takes Kelly from her bed and drives off in Paul’s car, hoping to somehow bond with her young, frustrated sister. As the daughters tear through the Sussex countryside, there is no thawing between Paul and Michelle, only strained gestures and suggestive digs. It seems that Paul has been aloof in their marriage, haunted by the memory of his late wife, yet that does not excuse Michelle’s behaviour. Masked with a blank, icy expression, she tries her best to radiate contempt from her spiteful eyes. She shows no interest in conciliation, only petty vindictiveness.
Michie and Nolan deliver convincing performances, making the most of their relatively sparse screen time. Yakira and Kelly are given more time to work with, yet their bond is distracted by the presence of Chin (Andre Flynn), a wily opportunist who hops in the car while Yakira relieves herself in a lay-by. Chin is a dubious character for two reasons. Firstly, his white suit, red tie and slicked-back hair give him the appearance of a new wave rock star. Secondly, what is his purpose? As a drug dealer, he adds a criminal element to the story that seems written for dramatic purposes, yet all his character really does is rob the narrative of vital opportunities for growth between the two sisters.
Despite this, How to Stop a Recurring Dream is watchable to its final minute. It’s a minor entry in the British realist canon, granted, but there is clear promise in all those involved.