Adapting Irvine Welsh’s short story Ecsatsy – another entry in the writer’s canon of stories about sex, drugs, and consequences – was a decade long labour of love that took a lot of time and patience to bring to life. While the film was clearly made with love and care at all levels of the production, it’s kind of hard to see what the effort was really all about. The film comes across more like a late 90s teleplay preserved in amber than something that should be screened in theatres, and the cliches are off the charts to the point where there’s no surprises to be found and nothing but a long sit for anyone who has seen this exact kind of underground drug drama before.
28 year old Edinburgh layabout Lloyd (Adam Sinclair) goes through life smuggling drugs for the mercurial and dangerously on edge at all times Solo (Carlo Rota) while still living at home with his alcoholic pops (Stephen McHattie). When he meets a married Canadian woman (Kristin Kreuk) who just so happens to oh so ironically works for a Scottish anti-drug hotline, he feels compelled to change his ways, but just after one final run to try and set himself straight with his dealer.
Director Rob Heydon does an admirable job covering for himself and his probably microscopic budget that forced him to shoot almost all of the film in Canada instead of in the actual country it takes place in. He also has a firm enough handle on the material so all the pieces ultimately fit. He gets more than a little help in the acting department, especially from Rota and an all to briefly seen McHattie, who do what they can to inject life into parts that practically have their own bins in the bargain basement of the screenwriting warehouse.
Unfortunately, Ecstasy is just far too routine and uninteresting for the efforts to pay off. The standard “get high, come down” narrative has become far too prevalent to be at all resonant, especially in a year chock full of addiction narratives in cinema already. It’s unfortunate timing to be certain, but the film owes so much to Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Trainspotting and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy that it would have seemed out of place close to a decade ago when the idea to first make the movie was floated.
It’s supposed to be a 90s period piece as far as one can tell, but at times the low budget makes things look too modern for that to be altogether truthful. The script does get a few things right thematically, like rightfully saying that the main characters are too old to be doing what they’re doing, but the voiceover rendered philosophical musings feels just as ticked off a checklist as every major plot point. Rota’s character is great, but one can see his mood swings minutes before they happen. Billy Boyd shows up as the best friend who ruins things for everyone and the second he shows up his arc is immediately apparent with no deviation to really shock or make us feel anything for him. We know things are going to get worse for Lloyd before they get better, but there’s nothing here that deviates from the same tired playbook.
From Welsh’s name being all over the production materials, it’s clear this was a film that he wanted to get made just as much as Heydon did, and maybe that’s why it feels a bit more like a greatest hits collection than anything particularly original. It’s been in the can for only about 2 full years now, but Ecstasy feels like some sort of curio or artifact that’s been sitting around on a shelf for even longer, and in this case it’s not necessarily a compliment. Some genres age well, but I doubt many people are willing to rush out to relive the club scene of the late 90s no matter how good the soundtrack admittedly is.