Dirs: Tim Clague, Danny Stack. UK. 2015. 80mins
Nelson Nutmeg, the lovable squirrel mascot of a British seaside caravan park, is apparently thrown off a cliff and then immolated in secret bonfire. It’s a premise that makes this gentle kids’ adventure picture seem rather darker than it actually is. In fact, this is a benign tale of teen and pre-teen detectives which is best suited to a very young audience, largely because anyone over eight is likely to take issue with the narrative inconsistencies of this microbudget film which premiered at the London Film Festival.
To say that the film’s big reveal doesn’t hold up to scrutiny is something of an understatement.
Theatrical prospects seem limited by the fact that, although parents might welcome an alternative to animation for their children, this earnest but bumbling film is not the kind of slick Nativity-style package which will connect with kids and their carers. It feels like a well-meaning regional television production. A festival life at events targeted at young audiences seems more likely, particularly if the film is supported by its most marketable star, Bonnie Wright (aka Ginnie Weasley).
The feature debut of short film directors Tim Clague and Danny Stack, whose writing credits include children’s animated television series Octonauts, this picture clearly suffers from its restricted budget. Given the number of inexperienced children in the cast, the luxury of a longer shoot might have improved the quality of performances.
Billy (Loretta Walsh), her conspiracy theorist older brother Swindon (Jonah Alexander), tomboy military fantasist The Colonel (Hattie Gotobed), flatulence gag fan Shiv (J. J. Brown) and chess nerd Woody (James Grogan) have been holidaying at the same low-rent seaside holiday park for years. They grew up loving the crazy antics of Nelson Nutmeg, the giant squirrel-costumed children’s entertainer. But all agree that they are too old for him now.
However when Billy, having failed to sneak into the adults-only disco, overhears a heated discussion between Nelson the squirrel and somebody else, she decides to investigate. She sees, or thinks she sees, the body of Nelson Nutmeg lying prone at the bottom of the cliff. And later, having failed to interest her father in the news, she sees Nelson’s costume consumed by flames.
Meanwhile other things have changed at Nelson’s Retreat holiday park. A large, rather frightening bald man has appeared on the staff roster. His duties mainly include growling at small children and nailing bits of wood to things. He also, in one of several kid-friendly gross out moments, eats a live slug. And jovial camp manager Uncle Derek has been replaced by steely red-head Diane (Bonnie Wright). What’s more, there is a new Nelson Nutmeg, an imposter in a fresh costume, who doesn’t know Nelson’s trademark moves.
The kids set out to investigate, but all they unearth are a series of crudely constructed false leads. And then one of their own team, Shiv, disappears, having first confided in Billy that he was worried that his parents were splitting up.
To say that the film’s big reveal doesn’t hold up to scrutiny is something of an understatement. Nelson Nutmeg falls to pieces the moment you try and untangle the twist ending, suggesting that Clague and Stack may have rather underestimated the sophistication of their target audience.
Production company: Nelson Nutmeg Pictures ltd
Producers: Jan Caston, Tim Clague, Danny Stack
Screenplay: Tim Clague, Danny Stack
Cinematography: Sam Morgan Moore
Editor: Fiorella Santaniello
Main cast: Bonnie Wright, Hattie Gotobed, Loretta Walsh, Jonah Alexander, J. J. Brown