Within five minutes of this new documentary – after the home video wanderings settle into a casual conversational rhythm – it is impossible to look away from the feats of derring-do on display: the subjects are a youthful group dedicated to parkour. They climb to the top of Edinburgh’s Forth Bridges and onto trains in London and Berlin, flipping into rivers and across rooftops. Rikke Brewer and Aiden Knox are the focus of OFF THE RAILS, representing a loose collective of free runners in their teens and early twenties who all hope to ride parkour fame out of Guildford’s staid streets.
Adrenaline-seeking in Surrey (and beyond) runs into an abrupt tonal shift a couple of years after the teens have found followers and limited social media fame, when one of their number is killed in a train accident unrelated to their daring feats. Rikke and Aiden capture their own spiral down and eventual climb back to something resembling normalcy through home footage and the occasional retrospective monologue. Their daring feats must be bigger, better, and bolder to escape their trauma – and finding that is impossible is a poignant beat in an otherwise frantic portrait of two lives. The thrills chased fit into today’s modern landscape, but the urges for adventure, fame, and further meaning are as old as time.
“Some responses to OFF THE RAILS will focus on the sometimes-fatal irresponsibility of these demonstrations, [but] this glimpse into Rikke and Aiden’s life does not glamorise their social reality; modern Britain has few opportunities for social advancement or betterment, and even less […] meaningful mental health support.”
Some responses to OFF THE RAILS will focus on the sometimes-fatal irresponsibility of these demonstrations, which are captured in full alongside the adoring social media reactions they often elicit. But this glimpse into Rikke and Aiden’s life does not glamorise their social reality; modern Britain has few opportunities for social advancement or betterment, and even less for true, meaningful mental health support. While the spirit of adventure the young men bring to their self-challenges is admirable, the undercurrent of despair is hard to ignore. The documentary steers clear of moralising – letting the subjects speak for themselves throughout (for better and worse) – and there is no glamour here.
The biggest flaw is structural; this documentary is a mess. Director Peter Day and editor Rob Alexander admirably let Brewer and Knox lead the storytelling, in exchange for trust and a treasure trove of footage. This may have been the most trustworthy and responsible way to tell the story, leading to some delightfully candid revelations clearly uninhibited by any form of script. But letting two chaotic individuals narrate their own exploits creates many confused moments. Even though chronologies and subjects are not always kept straight, the energy carries the story forward.
OFF THE RAILS is a breathless narrative that may have benefited from reflection and structure, but the spark and spirit are captivating throughout. Stitched together from a personal archive, the film reflects its subjects’ heart and determination without seeking an easy path for their struggles.