Acid casualties

The latest Irvine Welsh adaptation makes a virtue out of ugliness.

READING AN IRVINE Welsh book is a little like eating chocolate-covered shortbread while getting poked with red hot needles—intensely pleasurable and intensely painful all at once. The new film of the trendy Scot’s 1994 short story collection, The Acid House, produces the same aversion-therapy sensation. For every deeply funny or beautifully shot moment, there’s a vicious fight or cruel exchange of bodily fluids just around the corner. There’s even an interlude of sadistic sex that’s just one step removed from a Monty Python skit. That’s Irvine Welsh, all right.

The Acid House

plays September 17-23 at Varsity

Unlike 1995’s Trainspotting, adapted from Welsh’s novel of the same name by John Hodge, the new film’s screenplay was written by the author himself. Yet because Welsh’s books are so kinetic and conversational in the first place, the difference in screenwriters is less noticeable than the differences in visual style and casting. If Iggy Pop’s ironic, brutally glamorous “Lust For Life” encapsulates the earlier film, The Acid House‘s defining moment comes as a doleful wedding band mumbles its way through a cover of Oasis’s “Wonderwall.”

Director Paul McGuigan hews closer to the text, depicting squalid living rooms and grimy playing fields with the dingy flatness of a Nick Waplington photo. His actors speak with accents so heavy that subtitles are provided. By comparison, Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting is a glitzy fairy tale brimming with jewel-colored intensity. Ewan McGregor and Kelly Macdonald are far tastier—even in junkie gauntness or swimming through toilet water—than any of The Acid House‘s fuzzy-lipped, acne-plagued denizens. Next to his fellow cast members, the bug-eyed Ewen Bremner—also in Trainspotting as the simple-minded basket case Spud—starts looking pretty good.

Bremner appears in the new film’s third and final segment as Coco, a raver who’s popped one too many Super Mario tabs and winds up switching souls with a posh couple’s newborn (a putty-faced puppet with an unfortunate resemblance to Child’s Play villain Chucky). Coco’s story is loosely connected to the previous two by location—Edinburgh’s dismal Muirhouse projects—and by a couple of recurring minor characters. The most noticeable thread is actor Maurice Ro붥s, who shows up in each vignette—first as God, then as an anonymous drunken wedding guest, and finally as a surrealistic priest administering Coco’s psychotropic sacrament.

THE FIRST AND least satisfying of the three yarns, “The Granton Star Cause,” follows Bob, a complacent Everyman, as he loses his job, his girlfriend, his digs, and his spot in a kickabout football team all in one day. Then he meets God, a self-described “lazy, slovenly cunt,” down at the pub and promptly gets turned into a fly, whereupon he takes his exceptionally gross revenge. Next up is the most horrifying segment, “A Soft Touch,” a cautionary tale about a guy who’s just too nice for his own good. Predictable schlemiel Johnny concedes to a shotgun wedding with Catriona, much to the relief of the local male population since there’s some question as to who the kid’s father is. Soon Catriona returns to carousing, particularly with their psychotic upstairs neighbor, and Johnny is left with the baby—until Catriona gets pregnant again.

The theme of redemption hovers in the background of these stories, finding explicit expression in “The Acid House,” as Coco gets the opportunity to be literally born again. This being Irvine Welsh, though, the happiest moment of his new, clean-slate existence is when he’s greedily suckling his “mother.” It’s a hard-knock life, and The Acid House displays the scars in all their ugly, tragicomic beauty.