Party's Just Beginning review Karen Gillan

Year: 2018
Director(s): Karen Gillan
Writer(s): Karen Gillan
Region of Origin: UK, US 
Rating: n/a
Color, 91 mins

Synopsis: When her best friend takes his own life, Liusaidh has to deal with stresses of such a situation. (Source)

Looks can be deceiving, especially for a country like Scotland. It’s a land abundant with natural beauty, but also also carries one of the highest suicide rates in all of Britain. This shocking contrast is what writer/star/director Karen Gillan plays off of in her impressive feature debut, The Party’s Just Beginning. As the title suggests, Gillan explores the aftermath of a suicide. The story is built around the extreme grief and guilt of those left behind, and the way silent social pressures and xenophobia can destroy people from the inside out. Mining the idea that people can be so close yet so far, Gillan creates a surreal story crackling with invention. In tandem with her own affecting performance, Gillan’s narrative instincts grab us by the throat, leading to a sobering conclusion lined with undeniable hope.

When we first meet Liusaidh (Karen Gillan), she’s already committed to giving herself over to excess and self-destruction. Stunned from the loss of her best friend, Alistair (Matthew Beard), Liusaidh is looking for any way to drown the pain. Blending drugs, drinks and a string of meaningless one night stands, her life becomes one long blur of regret and devastation. Still, as memories of Alistair continue to consume her, she can’t help but be tethered to the fleeting moments of connection all around her. As she works through the pain, it becomes clear that she has in important choice to make.

Despite the sensitivity and complexity of her subject matter, Gillan maintains a deft command of what’s at stake. Through and through, the film thrives in its anxious energy, contrasting intimate flashbacks with devastating snapshots of reality. The film flows effortlessly, never being bleak for the sake of it, but as a chance to explore the nature of connection in the modern world. Though he’s more like a ghost that lingers, Alistair’s story also gives enough weight to critique a culture that enables fear, hatred and all forms of repression. Through a few unlikely and spontaneous relationships, the story ultimately drives home the idea that we’re all in this together. No matter where we come from, or the ways we’ve decided to live our lives, we have a responsibility toward each other. If one of us falls, we all do. It’s this understated idea of compassion that sits below the surface of each scene, giving Liusaidh’s horrific spiral a genuine attempt at understanding.

Party's Just Beginning review Karen Gillan Lee Pace

By nature, the film sticks mostly to Liusaidh, giving the film’s small cast a chance to really shine. As the story’s focal point, Gillan’s Liusaidh never feels less than genuine. Gillan is unlike anything we’ve seen from her before, chasing after self-ruination and a mere few steps from oblivion. Gillan gives a measured performance, playing things understated and delivering the film’s subtle deadpan moments in a way that doesn’t overshadow the seriousness of it all. There’s a fine line to tread here, and Gillan navigates it in the most delicate way. As Alistair, and seen mostly through flashbacks, Matthew Beard makes the most of a limited role. He’s a conflicted character struggling with being honest to himself and those around him. Beard gives his role the respect it deserves, weathering the story’s homophobic threats with dignity in spite of his character’s doomed fate. He takes what’s usually a stereotype and makes us understand the struggle. On the side, Lee Pace and Ralph Riach add a bit of depth to the proceedings, showcasing two unlikely friendships for Liusaidh, each with their own set of hangups.

It turns out the Whoniverse and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe just weren’t big enough to contain star Karen Gillan. The Party’s Just Beginning is a defining moment for the multi-hyphenate. She comes at her subject matter in a way that’s urgent and sincere. Taking to her hometown of Inverness, Gillan’s film is as personal as it gets. It carries a homegrown feeling and a sobering look at isolation in the modern world. Though the film doesn’t go as deep as it could, Gillan’s work behind the camera amounts to a sincere effort that can’t be ignored. This is a film with feeling and purpose, proving an exciting platform for Gillan’s emerging talents.