This debut feature from music director Daniel Wolfe is a social-realist thriller saved from unremittingly bleakness by pockets of poetry, a smattering of tenderness and a couple of humorous scenes.
Set among the trailer parks, kebab houses and neon nightclubs of Yorkshire, it follows Asian teenager Laila (newcomer Sameena Jaben Ahmed), on-the-lam with her white boyfriend (NEDS’ Connor McCarron) and pursued by a posse of guys – some Caucasian, some Asian – hired by her father.
An air of inexorable violence hangs over the entire picture, though it’s to the credit of Wolfe and his brother/co-writer Matthew that they don't feel the need to spell out the conflict with exposition. Actions here speak louder than words, and the shadow of ‘honour killings’ stretches over each desolate shot as the pursuers close in on their prey. The only real question is whether there will be a Searchers-like moment of redemption come the finale (no spoilers here).
Robbie Ryan's 35mm lensing is fittingly urgent but still finds time to capture the beauty of a rising mist or to pull back and locate its hardscrabble characters within an arresting landscape, sometimes lonesome, sometimes clogged with traffic and noise. Away from the power of the closeup, their all-consuming passions seem shrunken and trivial.
Ahmed, who was stopped in the street and asked to audition, is a soulful, free-spirited lead, her desire to hustle to the beat of her own heart crystallised in a soaring scene where she dances to Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’. The likeable McCarron, meanwhile, refuses to overplay the drama, his controlled performance kindled by flashes of fierce love and controlling behaviour - perhaps Laila is trapped whichever way she turns.
Wolfe’s film is a touch too long and falls short of the work of Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) and Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant), but it’s a promising debut, deserving of attention.