The teenagers in Spaceship, a debut film from British director Alex Taylor, are obsessed with unicorns, rainbows and extraterrestrials. The actors that play the loose gang of misfits and outsiders can be equally good at living in parallel universes.
Take Tallulah Rose Haddon, 20, who plays blue haired, BDSM obsessed Alice in the film and who, in reality, does not disappoint. "I turned up yesterday for this interview," she announces as we sit to talk over coffee with her Spaceship co-star Lucian Charles Collier in the British Film Institute. "But I am always doing that. I turned up for the [queer] Flare Festival here a month early," she laughs. "I thought I was so organised. Then the staff told me the festival didn't start until March."
Spaceship is equally as trippy as its actors. The film centres on Lucidia, a teenager with rainbow hair and a tragic backstory. Her mum died in a mysterious swimming pool accident years ago, and she now lives with her archeologist dad in Aldershot. When Lucidia disappears, her friend Alice and sometime boyfriend Luke have a perfectly good explanation for this: she's been abducted by aliens. What follows is an unconventional portrait of subcultural teenage Britain. Alex encouraged his young cast to draw on themselves for the characters and improvise ideas, for this film about teenage experience, fantasy and reality.
"We worked a lot in improvisation," says Harrogate born Lucian, 26, who plays the motorbike-riding, ballet-performing Luke in the film. "We'd either expand on the script that Alex had written, or once the scene he'd written had ended, he'd continue shooting and allow us to go different places with it and form our own ideas of what may or may not be happening in the world that he had created."
Touching some of the supernatural and lo-fi edges of early Greg Araki, but with a distinctly British sensibility, Taylor gets inside the suburban outsider experience, in all its contrivance and heroic striving for cool.
The kids are an Affleck's Palace blend of rave culture, cosplay, neo-gothic looks, metal-head music and shock your nan sexuality. It's Tallulah's character Alice who shines, a sometimes vicious and manipulative riot of neon and attitude, a girl who is partial to leading her goth boyfriend around the terraced estates of Aldershot on a dog leash.
"The whole film revolves around outsiders, people who are not necessarily in the mainstream," explains Lucian of the array of styles in the film. "A lot of these cultures have become more mainstream now. But where the film is set, on the outskirts of London, these subcultures aren't as accepted."
Alex doesn't try too hard at stylising that experience. Maybe this is to do with the very real British location, an army town, with nothing but suburbs and squaddies for miles. Beneath the fantasy storyline of alien abduction lie sad truths about loneliness and real life.
"The fantasy elements are approached in a realist way," says Lucian. "You can be talking about aliens and abduction and it doesn't seem gimmicky. The lines between reality and fantasy are blurred. Fantasy is used as an escape. They're finding a way to cope with their disillusion at the reality of life."
For their characters, each actor brought something of their own to the table. Lucian's training in ballet at Renaissance Arts in Leeds is put to good use in one of Spaceship's most evocative scenes, when Luke dances solo in and around an abandoned army tank.
Tallulah's character, Alice, is inspired by the actor's other work as a performer on London's LGBT cabaret scene. "I'd just left school so I was hanging out with people in the queer community. Also, all the girls I went to school with who still went to raves and wore 90s clothes. I was inspired by them, and by their energy -- wanting to just sweat and dance. But also I was aware of Alice's queerness. I wanted to her to be a secret lesbian."
Spaceship, like its characters and the people who play them, is not unafraid to be itself. "It's got some pride in it in the way [it depicts how] you can be a really sad person but also alive in your sadness," says Tallulah, summing up the mood of the piece. "The characters are not just moping around, but having some really intense feelings."
Spaceship is in cinemas from 19 May
Text Colin Crummy