If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to have a debilitating condition like epilepsy then this film gives you a intimately powerful idea. Its lead character Lily O’Connor (Agyness Deyn) suffers from this condition and the film also takes its visual cues from her condition. Rendering her fits with shots of electricity zapping across the screen as a mirror to her brain sending disrupted electric signals, an ‘electrical storm’ in her mind as Lily refers to it. Blurry POV shots show the side effects of the heavy anti-epileptic drugs she uses and the wooziness before a fit. Light is refracted and into rainbow colours and moments of Lily’s hallucinations colour the narrative, like her memorably suspended with electric swirls in black space mid jump.
The story is meant to be a modern-day Alice in Wonderland though the only resemblance to that classic tale that I could see (and maybe I’m missing something) is when Lily describes her fits as ‘going down the rabbit’s hole’ and we see the parallel world of epileptic induced hallucinations and trance-like states in which she lives. The plot is a relatively simple one she inherits some money from her deceased mother (in one memorable scene with the mother’s corpse we see the intense anger Lily still has towards her), who we find out was the cause of her epilepsy having thrown her down the stairs as a child-, and she goes from Brighton to London to find her long-lost brother Mickey (Christian Cooke) in order to give him his part of the inheritance. Mickey often protected her as a child in a fractured household so to Lily he is her saviour, but he was taken away by social services and has since ended up destitute and harbours bitterness and rage about a betrayal with another brother Barry (Paul Andersen). As she wonders London talking to the homeless for clues as to where Mickey is she meets Mel (Lenora Crichlow of Sugar Rush and Being Human fame) who takes her in after she helps her after one of her fits.
The film really rests on the visuals and Lily and Deyn’s strong performance for its interest and the other characters are not as fleshed out as they could be. Mickey had about two keys aggression or anger while Barry is just laddish and cocky. The sympathetic and likeable Mel was more rounded and played well by Crichlow but I still wanted to find out more about her as we only know a few details about her having broken up badly with a girlfriend, and find out nothing much more about her background.
But what a whirlwind performance it is from Deyn, vulnerable but sparky and sassy, assured but fragile, sexy but insecure. And we really feel her pain during a fit, particularly in those moments where she just wants to be normal (in one particular scene she has a fit after having sex which is particularly painful having not been intimate with a man before and having not felt sexy due to her condition). It makes for uncomfortable viewing in face at times and I writhed in my seat, but it’s also testament to the film’s power. And in the moments where she is refused the same medication she took before from an unsympathetic doctor after she has a medication stolen, a change of medication messes her up apparently, we really feel for her struggle to have a sense of self and normal life amidst the knickers soaking fits and blackouts. And in the moment where she decides not to take her medication and just wants to ‘burn bright’ and see the world in its full intensity and not under the fog of drugs, it is made understandable by Lily’s independent spirit (also reflected in her sparkling and colourful wardrobe, which I wonder if Deyn had a hand in choosing) even if fatally dangerous and careless. In short we care for Lily and what happens to her, and she is a character that says in the memory long after the film ends, and like another visually memorable film The Diving Bell and The Butterfly really captures what it’s like to have a debilitating condition.