What’s the most stressful experience of your life? Whatever it was, there is nothing like that crushing sense of doom that comes from feeling ultimately powerless as fortune deals you terrible hand after terrible hand.
When my ankles start throbbing (don’t ask) I know that I am physically undergoing a fight or flight response that has nowhere to go. Pulsing veins in my ankles threatened to crush the bone when watching Boiling Point, starring Stephen Graham as the struggling Head Chef of a busy upmarket London Restaurant.
There are many ways to manufacture tension in movies, be it through the edit, performances, score, or tone. Boiling Point is the simplest and arguably most effective form of tension there is: inescapable inevitability.
Filmed in one continuous shot, the camera spends the 92 minutes run time like a ghost. It drifts unanchored through the enclosed space and squeezing down corridors, pausing to fixate on snapshots of moments as the stress of the night broils and bubbles.
Films shot in few takes are not unheard of but even the best of them (and let's include 1917 and Birdman in that list) spend some transitional time with slow walking shots to allow for sneaky edits or scene rejigging.
Boiling Point is as close to the real experience of working in a busy restaurant as you can get. There’s always another order, always someone needing service. There is always something that needs cooking, needs finishing now, needs changing. There is always the risk of something vital being forgotten…
Even though the setting itself is already inherently stressful, director and co-writer Philip Barantini along with a talented cast, fill out the setting with a set of circumstances like a nest of snakes.
Head Chef Andy Jones (Stephen Graham) arrives for work after a tense phone call which implies he is undergoing a divorce, sofa surfing, and desperate to connect with his young son. Yet he arrives right as a health inspection downgrades the restaurant from 5 stars to 3, thanks in main to his lacklustre paperwork.
So with Andy initially berating and shifting blame onto his kitchen staff (only to apologise later), the wider cast is introduced. Chef Carly (Vinette Robinson) is tired of picking up the slack and being underappreciated.
Front of House manager, Beth (Alice Feetham) is more concerned with social media presence than good staff relations. Good-natured pastry chef Emily (Hannah Walters) struggles with personal revelations from her trainee. And all the while the overbooked tables are filling up.
Is Boiling Point Worth Watching?
In what will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked in the service industry, what Boiling Point excellently captures is how fluid every situation is.
Obnoxious customers make unnecessary demands which add pressure to staff already trying to balance everything, yet when some members slack off then others bear the brunt of the results.
Our viewpoint drifts in and out of these various vignettes, which become all the more stressful as we become aware of an incoming storm of problems.
Graham delivers a masterclass here. As Andy, he shifts through a range of emotions throughout the night, embodying a man who, in other circumstances, would be the reliable lynchpin that such an environment needs, but yet is barely holding it together as his personal life comes crashing down.
This isn’t helped by the unexpected appearance of a patronising celebrity chef and former mentor (Jason Flemyng) whom Andy suspects has other reasons for turning up.
When the camera walks away from Graham to take in the frustrations and flirtations of other employees it does so to fill in more about them, so that when we swing back to Andy we are all the richer for understanding why things are playing out as they are.
Boiling Point is a tight elastic band ball of a movie, straining and threatening to explosively twang in into shrapnel at any point. The all in one shot technique is ideally suited and perfectly deployed, with a cast on top form, as they need to be in order to perform incessantly for the run time.
Get yourself a nice cup of tea, put on your comfiest clothes, and have a collection of stress balls within reach; Boiling Point is on the hob and waiting to make your ankles throb.
Words by Mike Record