Harold’s Going Stiff (2011) Review

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The DVD packaging promised me a full-on comedy in the style of Shaun of the Dead; a line of marketing that did the movie no favours at all. By sending me in expecting to have my ribs tickled, rather than my heart strings plucked, the distributors ensured that I spent the first half of the movie resenting it for what it is, rather than enjoying it for what it is; a heartwarming tale about the relationship between a sick man, and the nurse who cares for him. This isn’t to say that Harold is without its funny moments – most notably some The Office style awkwardness, slapstick from a group of vigilantes, and absurdities around Harold’s physiotherapy and a possible source of the disease, but they are far from the focus, and the film could honestly stand on its own without them.

The documentary style makes the best of the films low budget, hand-held cameras, and a hurried shoot (9 days, including pick-ups) and makes a nice change from bending those limitations into yet another found footage movie. Sadly there are a few moments which deviate from the realm of what a documentary could cover, and they can challenge the suspension of disbelief for a second.

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That said, the superb cast of unknowns, especially the lead pair of Harold (Stan Rowe) and his nurse Penny (Sarah Spenser) bring enough to the table to make up for the shortcomings. Watching the relationship between Penny and Harold grow from a distrusting old man and a slightly patronising care-worker, into close friends with a real affection for one another is wonderful, and the prospect of Harold’s seemingly inevitable decline is heartbreaking as a result.

I can easily believe that this movie was, originally, simply about a friendship between an elderly arthritis / early stage dementia patients’ friendship with his care-giver, and that the whole “zombie” thing was tacked on later because horror movies are easier for an independent crew to market. In any case, if you go in expecting action, gore, and belly laughs, prepare to be disappointed; but go in expecting a movie about friendship, fear, the loss of self, and the human condition, and you’re in for a low budget gem.

We’ve got a very good lead… It’s a sausage.

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