A gritty Brit thriller from first-time writer and director Helen Walsh that promises plenty of potential.
In the council estates and dingy streets of a nameless and faceless northern city, disillusioned teen Shelly (Lauren McQueen) roams through a life of poverty, fear and petty theft. Haunted by an abusive father and absent mother, she begs, borrows and steals her way to support herself and her young brother.
As she’s groomed into an uncomfortable relationship with menacing loan shark Mikey Finnegan, Shelly also attracts the attention of a mysterious young woman (Brogan Ellis’ Rachel) from the other side of the tracks. It’s not long before an awkward friendship is formed through their shared disaffection, despite their disparate lives, but Shelly starts to sense a more sinister connection between the two young women.
Given The Violators’ substance and style, Fish Tank is an obvious reference point for Helen Walsh’s debut feature. But as her camera finds slivers of beauty amidst the squalor of sink estates, it also recalls the work of Duane Hopkins (Better Things, Bypass) and Kieran Evans (Kelly + Victor).
The film is sensitively directed, finding a balance between raw realism and woozy artistry, while recurring visual motifs perhaps comment on the fetishization of an underclass, which is prevalent in so much poverty-porn. Stolen glances and lingering shots of Shelly throw a threatening shadow of sexualisation and exploitation across her story, punctuated with harrowing flashbacks to historical abuse.
While the narrative doesn’t offer anything particularly fresh, and the twisted ending isn’t quite tight enough to pack the emotional punch you want, the striking performances and directorial flair on display in The Violators makes it an engrossing – if uneasy – watch, with a lot of talent to keep an eye out for in future.
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