Mischief Night (2006)

A ‘Mischief Night,’ apparently, is a sort of holiday in Yorkshire. It’s one night, a bit like Hallowe’en, when kids are allowed to run amok, playing tricks on their friends and neighbours without getting into too much trouble. It’s a peculiarly Northern sort of carnival – and like all other uses of carnival in fiction, it’s there to provoke revelations about the true nature of various characters by, perversely, allowing them to step outside of their everyday identities. There’s a scene in Mischief Night where a character reads aloud a scene from Shakespeare’s As You Like It in an English lesson; that little tip-off could only have been more screamingly unsubtle if she’d been reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The movie’s central character is Tina, a some-time single mother of three kids by three different fathers. She ties all the different stories together, and also dutifully narrates (despite not being privy to many of the events, but hey, that’s storytelling for you). The estate on which Tina lives is divided into two halves: a white side, and an Asian side. On the white side is Tina’s family: her drug-dealing father, her would-be drug-dealing eldest son Tyler, her headstrong daughter Kimberley who’s determined to find her real father, and her rebellious younger son Macaulay, for whom baiting paedophiles is all good fun. On the Asian side live Tina’s old school friends: career criminal Quassim and reformed dealer Immy, who longs for change, to end all the crime and violence. Immy’s extended family gets a look-in, too; notably Asif, a troublemaker who befriends Kimberley, and Serina, a young girl whose dreams of university are about to come to an end – her parents plan to marry her off to an old-man cousin from Pakistan.

It’s a lot to ask of a film to carry so many characters without neglecting the development of any of them, but Mischief Night pulls it off admirably. More importantly, it handles a lot of potentially contentious issues with aplomb and, essentially, humour. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in Mischief Night, with some gentle surrealism thrown in for good measure, though there is an occasional tendency to paint scenes with overly broad brushstrokes. The film covers the week leading up to Mischief Night, which is when all the bubbling tensions rise to the surface: every one of the main characters is trapped in one way or another, whether by socio-economic status, tradition, or just the products of their own stupidity, and the excitement of that one night manages to somehow set each of them free. Throughout, despite the humour and silliness, there’re some rather dark undercurrents, but the rapid-fire rundown of each character’s fate manages to defuse this as everyone gets an improbably neat and tidy happy ending. The finale plays out rather like a series of punch lines – but at least everything wraps up with a smile.

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Originally reviewed for 6 Degrees Film.

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