Chances are you’ve never seen a film quite like Chris Morris’ Four Lions, which focuses on a hapless group of wannabe jihadists in Northern England.
Morris is no stranger to controversy, having outraged viewers and pundits alike with his satirical Channel 4 news spoof Brass Eye, but he admits that pulling off a comedy about suicide bombers is a delicate balancing act.
“What we were striving was for something ridiculous that had a serious effect,” says Morris via telephone from London. “We wanted to show how something that looked silly from a distance could have real consequences.”
Indeed, for all the laughs the film scores off of its protagonists’ ineptitude — from brandishing tiny replica guns in ostensibly threatening YouTube videos to donning outlandish Halloween costumes for their final mission — there’s also a lurking sense of dread.The director suggests that humour and the horror are able to co-exist onscreen because of their close proximity in real-life.
“You’ll notice that in the real world there are plenty of examples of group actions that are either foundering or even falling apart because of in-fighting,” he says. “That’s the case for terrorists as well. We studied various court cases and surveillance material, and it’s all across the spectrum. There are people who’ve gone to Pakistan to learn how to make fertilizer into a bomb, and there are people in the same group who think it’s just for fertilizer.”
Surprisingly, Four Lions was something of a hit in the U.K., Britain having a long history of provocative comedy. Morris says he’s proud to be part of that lineage but that he could easily imagine a North American filmmaker picking up the same gauntlet.
“IAnywhere you have extremes of behaviour, there is a comic possibility. If you plot a chart between Team America and Curb Your Enthusiasm, you might find someone in the American canon who could do it.”