Hoard Review: LFF 2023

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Rating: 3 out of 5.

A teen girl descends into mental illness in gross out psychodrama Hoard

*Beware minor spoilers as to the initial plot of the film

A disturbing rumination on trauma and neglect, love and motherhood, Hoard is the debut feature from British director Luna Carmoon. It is in competition for the Best First Feature award at the BFI London Film Festival.

1984, South London and we join Maria (Lily-Beau Leach) and her mother Cynthia (Hayley Squires – I, Daniel Blake) dressed in lurid clothes, rooting through a charity shop collection bin at night. All sorts of broken and discarded objects are thrown into their shopping trolley to be taken home, from old cutlery to broken appliances, Cynthia claims she has a use for everything.

At school Maria is getting into trouble. She’s falling asleep in class; the other kids claim she smells and she keeps getting told off for forgetting her P.E kit – she claims she can’t find it. When Maria gets home it all starts to make sense. Forcing open a front door that’s blocked in by piles and piles of old paper, we find that she lives in a hoarder house. Cynthia has filled every room and every conceivable surface with junk – from empty cans, to mouldy food to the occasional dead animal – the house is absolutely rancid.

Lily-Beau Leach stars as young Maria and Hayley Squires as Cynthia is Hoard
Lily-Beau Leach stars as young Maria and Hayley Squires as Cynthia is Hoard

Despite their living conditions there is a fantastical, fairytale element to Maria and Cynthia’s life at home, as Cynthia makes up songs and games based around their unusual house and all it’s stuff. The two clearly have an intense bond, and while Maria knows its not like a normal home, she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Yet Cynthia’s fragile mental state is as precarious as the piles of rubbish in her house. She flies off the handle at the slightest provocation, freaking out if she thinks that Maria has so much as thrown out an orange peel.

When an accident results in Maria being taken into foster care, we suddenly fast forward 10 years to 1994, and late teens Maria (Saura Lightfoot Leon in her debut feature.) Having spent the last decade calling her foster carer Michelle (Samantha Spiro – Sex Education) mum, Maria is settled into a safer and more comfortable life, even if she is still a bit of an outcast.

Things are shaken up when a former foster child of Michelle’s, Michael (Joesph Quinn – Stranger Things) comes to stay for a few weeks and he is immediately drawn to her. An unexpected delivery from Maria’s former life then sends her mentally spiralling back to her childhood.

What follows is a largely absurd, often disturbing, frequently bewildering trip through Maria’s fractured psyche as she both tries to reconnect with her mother through building her own hoard of random stuff, and also experiences a sort of sexual awakening with Michael – or is it some bizarre sexual connection with the rubbish itself? It’s honestly hard to tell.

Saura Lightfood Leon stars as older Maria in Hoard
Saura Lightfood Leon stars as older Maria in Hoard

It’s audaciously Avant Gard with elements of body horror thrown in that are difficult to watch. Carmoon has referenced Ken Russell and Paul Verhoeven as some of her favourite filmmakers and their influence is clear here. It’s often hard to tell what is actually happening and what is hallucination; with far more turning out to be real than we’d really like to accept.

It’s also hard to tell if Michael is just as depraved as Maria, or if he’s just so obsessed with her that he is willing to facilitate and encourage her disturbing behaviour. As a child of the foster care system himself he certainly has some trauma to unpack, but as the story is all told through Maria’s eyes, we never really get to figure out what’s going on with him. Hoard features brave performances from Quinn and especially Leon, bringing unhinged, absolutely feral behaviour to the big screen with abandon.

I absolutely adored the opening 30 or so minutes where Hoard is set in Maria and Cynthia’s mad capped home. The magical realism of it all reminded me of the many Jaqueline Wilson books I read as a kid where the true horrors of abuse and neglect are often masked by a cute-on-the-surface story. The ending too is satisfyingly bittersweet, bringing us back to the central story of the mother and daughter and reconciling all that weirdness we’ve had to endure in a genuinely painful, heartfelt conclusion.

The middle ‘madness’ section is jumbled with far too much going on and quite a few instances of ropey, Eastenders quality dialogue. Yet there are the seeds of something really interesting within Hoard. If nothing else it’s encouraging to see such a confidently weird debut from a British director (I don’t yet know if this is getting a cinema release but I can guarantee it’s going to cause some walkouts if it does.) Hoard is bit of a mess, but there’s glimmers of treasure within.

Hoard is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival. General release details are yet to be confirmed

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