sat 19/09/2020

The Violators | reviews, news & interviews

The Violators

The Violators

Ballsy, bruising, brilliant directorial debut feature from novelist Helen Walsh

Between despair and survival: Lauren McQueen as Shelley in 'The Violators'

British filmmaking does gritty suburban dramas better than anywhere. Stories stripped of superficial action, from Ken Loach’s early work through to more recent stand-out films like Tyrannosaur. The Violators offers a new voice producing a superb feature set in a bleak Merseyside suburb. Debut director Helen Walsh is better known as a novelist, creating tales thick with human drama, sometimes in grim settings, and The Violators adheres to this template.

British filmmaking does gritty suburban dramas better than anywhere. Stories stripped of superficial action, from Ken Loach’s early work through to more recent stand-out films like Tyrannosaur. The Violators offers a new voice producing a superb feature set in a bleak Merseyside suburb. Debut director Helen Walsh is better known as a novelist, creating tales thick with human drama, sometimes in grim settings, and The Violators adheres to this template.

Three siblings live together under the care of their constantly smoking, constantly angry older brother Andy (Derek Barr), terrified that their abusive father will be released from prison and come to harm them. Middle sibling Shelley (Lauren McQueen) is 15 but doesn’t go to school, instead wandering the seediest penny arcades, smoking spliffs in a deserted park that looks as if it has been recently napalmed, and shoplifting, taking the winnings to a squalid pawn shop. She’s the subject of unwanted male attention everywhere she goes, particularly from Mikey (Stephen Lord), the smarmy pawn shop owner and local bigwig who launches a series of mind games to entrap her.

Shelley also encounters Rachel (Brogan Ellis), a posh girl from the other side of town who also sets out to manipulate her for motives that are obscure and suspicious. Shelley tries to navigate the tightrope between despair and survival, while also shielding her younger brother Jerome (Callum King Chadwick) from the traps she sees laid for him.

Throughout the film, many of the characters are essentially voyeurs, watching one another and plotting. The claustrophobic atmosphere heightens as Shelley attempts to take control of her life. Yes, this is a depressing set-up, but the story is agile and neatly sidesteps cliché even if the characters more often conform to type. The men in particular are savagely drawn, bullies and cowards out to exploit first, hit later. The exception is Kieran (Liam Ainsworth), a neighbour on leave from the army who is a rare figure of stability.

The Violators at times is uncomfortable to watch, as Shelley risks everything to try and secure Jerome’s future. One sex scene is so gruesome you have peep through your fingers - if you can watch at all. Aside from moments of heightened conflict, the acting is mostly understated, the camera focusing on the two female leads, often without dialogue. The three main leads are superb, McQueen and Ellis wordlessly holding the viewer’s attention throughout, and Stephen Lord creating an entirely believable villain: bullying, creepy and snide.

Walsh made The Violators on a shoestring budget, using the assets at her disposal with intelligence. Cinematographer Tobin Jones, a first-timer who has worked as a camera operator for BBC dramas, produces rare beauty amongst the grime. The sound is poor or compromised in places, but doesn’t detract from the nerve-shredding tension. Six months into the year it’s time to start thinking about the best films of 2016, and The Violators is comfortably up there. It will rightly launch several new careers.

@ededowen


Overleaf: watch the trailer to The Violators

 

One sex scene is so gruesome you have peep through your fingers

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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