At first glance, Filth seemed to have a great deal going for it. The fact it is adapted from the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh will whet many people’s appetite, preparing the viewer for another humorous and endearingly offensive exploration of the dark perversities of the human psyche. However, if you are expecting something of similar brilliance to Danny Boyle’s 1996 adaptation of Welsh’s cult novel Trainspotting, lower your expectations now. While Welsh’s rich and layered style lends well to experimentation, Filth is a muddled genre-bender - somewhere between a crime drama, a tragedy and a warped Carry On film.
James McAvoy plays Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, a homophobic, misogynistic bent copper with a penchant for cocaine and sexually blackmailing underage girls. The plot follows Bruce’s relentless pursuit of a promotion, and his later descent into madness.
It begins as a broad comedy, Bruce farting in a meeting and popping a child’s balloon, while the latter half takes a more dramatic turn, becoming more surreal and intriguing as Bruce’s loneliness and disintegrating mind begins to take its toll. Trainspotting made a similar shift masterfully, but here the transition is too jarring, too much of a leap. The image of Renton diving into a poo-smeared bookie’s toilet or seeing the corpse of a baby crawling towards him were genuinely creepy and pushed Boyle’s film in a new direction. Here, Bruce’s mania and hallucinations of animal heads fail to affect or even scare the viewer.
Meanwhile, director John S Baird’s attempts to wring some pathos out of the story are transparent and grating. At one point, when our anti-hero tries to save a woman’s husband from a heart attack, we’re awkwardly led to try and sympathise with him; suddenly he is emotional, vulnerable and human. However, it comes off as sentimental and utterly contrived.