If you have been a fan of comic books at all in the last 30 years, you will probably recognize the name Alan Moore. He flipped the superhero genre on its head with Watchmen, entered into a world of ecological horror with his run on Swamp Thing, and took on a fascist state in V for Vendetta, but the mind of Alan Moore goes much deeper than the comic book industry. He is a self-professed occultist, anarchist, and ceremonial magician so you can make a pretty educated guess that Moore is not what some would call ordinary. Moore’s eccentricities work their way into all of his stories whether in comic or novel form and the same holds true with his most recent film The Show.
Directed by a longtime friend of Moore, Mitch Jenkins, The Show follows private detective Fletcher Dennis (Tom Burke) as he tries to recover a stolen artifact for a client. His search leads him to the British town of Northampton, which also happens to be the real-life home of Alan Moore. Upon his arrival, Dennis can see that Northampton is a quiet town, and yet there is definitely something off about it. His cab driver reminds him that “God made the country, but he didn’t make the town” as he drops Dennis off at his destination, signaling that not everything in Northampton is on the up and up.
Dennis is searching for a man named James Mitchum who was the last person in possession of a cross necklace that belonged to the daughter of his current client. The big problem for him is that upon his arrival he finds out that Mitchum is dead, as he fell down a flight of stairs, and that his leads are currently coming up short. Thankfully, while investigating at the hospital, he learns that Mitchum was engaged in some BDSM acts with a journalist, Faith Herrington (Siobhan Hewlett), who slipped into a coma after some erotic asphyxiation went wrong. Upon being asked about Mitchum, Faith begins to help Dennis follow the trail from the last days that Mitchum was alive. Believe me when I tell you, it is a strange trail.
After this first act, the linear structure of the story starts to fade away. Faith describes her experience from being in a coma as some sort of dream or production that is meant to distract her from the truth. In many ways, this is how I felt through the rest of the story. Dream sequences of Vaudevillian productions are interspersed throughout and while they definitely feel otherworldly, I wasn’t always sure if they were in fact a dream. This is definitely on purpose though, as the audience is experiencing everything with Dennis including the disorienting nature of the storytelling. Weaving through an elaborate underworld of a voodoo priestess and ambiguous vampires (I still don’t know if they were real), Dennis and Faith began to unravel many of Northampton’s dark secrets, yet unfortunately for them still no cross necklace.
The Show is not Moore’s first story to take place in Northampton. It is the backdrop of several short films and Moore’s novel Jerusalem. I can’t help but think that if I had experienced those I might be more familiar with the lore of the town. The backstory feels very rich and developed, but it just wasn’t developed much here. That left me feeling like I was missing a big chunk of the story and while I felt confused, I was still entertained. Through all of the perplexity, I was never frustrated because I kept feeling like I was supposed to be as lost about the town and its eccentricities as Dennis was. The journey is so surreal that many times I began to question the reality of the story at all. Early on, a hospital orderly tells Dennis about an image on the ceiling. So if a patient has an out-of-body experience they can describe the image that they saw, but he wonders why they don’t put an image on the floor in case you floated towards Hell and not Heaven. It is an amusing anecdote, but he also points out that there is a third option: what if the patient doesn’t go up or down and instead is actually stuck in purgatory? For me, purgatory seemed like a fitting answer to my confusion about the events that unfold. At least, that notion helped me let go and just enjoy the journey and the visuals of The Show without trying to figure it all out.
As big of a deal as I have made about my “confusion” during The Show, I really don’t think that was detrimental to my experience. Honestly, I really enjoyed it and I’m not sure that it would’ve really worked for me had this been just a linear detective story. A big part of the charm is how dreamlike it is. Early on in the second act, the story has started to ground itself a bit as Dennis is starting to pick up the trail for the lost necklace and he goes to hire another private detective to gather some information for him. Upon stepping into the detective’s office, the film turns black and white and you see two young kids dressed in full Maltese Falcon Bogart style clothing. Even the kid’s dialogue is straight out of a pulp noir as he voices out loud his inner monologue. The film regularly dances into dark comedy territory, but as strange and surreal as this moment was it felt like it belonged because this was all part of the dream.
The Show is definitely going to be a bit of an acquired taste, as it can be truly hard to make sense of at times. This is not a bad thing at all, but rather just more of a preference in storytelling. If you are willing to sit back and allow yourself to be immersed in the rich and strange world that Alan Moore has created, you will easily be drawn into the mystery and beauty of Northampton. This is perfectly complemented by wonderfully strange and brilliant performances by all of the actors, one of the standouts being Alan Moore himself. If you feel like you are ready to take the twisting and turning ride through the underworld of Northampton, then settle in and enjoy.
The Show is available in the UK through Altitude .