Artist and filmmaker Henry Coombes writes and directs Seat in Shadow, a Glasgow-set indie that explores the relationship between an experimental therapist and his young gay patient. The project has been touring the festival circuit – making appearances at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and BFI Flare festival, before arriving on home video this month. Unsettling and often amusing, Coombes’ feature debut boasts a stellar performance from lead actor David Sillars and a peculiarly absorbing narrative and surrealist visual panache.
Ben’s (Jonathan Leslie) grandmother recommends he seek therapy from her friend, experimental therapist and artist, Albert (Sillars), to help alleviate his depression. The reluctant Ben soon develops an off-kilter relationship with the Jung-inspired therapist which blurs the lines between doctor and patient.
Coombes has a unique artistic voice with Seat in Shadow often straddling the surreal and unsettling. Opening with a demented Youtube tutorial on brushing your teeth with charcoal, the unsettled, awkwardly amusing tone of the narrative asserts itself early on. This only heightens as the down-trodden Ben begins to immerse himself in the artistic world of Albert. The relatively straight-laced Ben (and us as viewers) begin to be thrown into the kaleidoscopic, sexually charged world of Albert.
Somewhat evocative of the likes of Harold Pinter/Tony Schaffer’s Sleuth, Seat in Shadow captures the mind games and verbal jousting of experience and eccentricity against the confidence and swagger of youth. The older queer figure, Albert, free of the ties of conventional lifestyle pits his ideals and values against those of the younger, more naive Ben. The odd, absorbing relationship between the pair is captured with real conviction and clout by Sillars and Leslie – with the fiery confidence of Sillars’ performance pairing nicely with the quiet brashness of Leslie’s Ben.
However, it’s the surrealist visuals in Seat in Shadow which ensure it is such a memorable piece. With often horrific dreamlike sequences, Coombes creates a surrealist cinematic piece that lingers with its audience. These surrealist touches (a man with a giant penis, a leave covered outfit, a strange spectre in a fencing outfit and Marcella McIntosh’s Glasgae Grandmother) infiltrating their way into the urban landscape of Glasgow creates a unique visual spectacle that is not easily forgotten.