Film Review – ‘The Violators’

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The Violators

Written and directed by novelist Helen Walsh, ‘The Violators‘ tells the story of Shelly (Lauren McQueen), who after testifying against her abusive father, finds herself rehoused. She soon attracts the attention of local loan shark Mikey (Stephen Lord), and a mysterious stranger Rachel (Brogan Ellis). These unlikely relationships, coupled with visits from the social worker, serve as background noise in the fear of her father’s early parole.

The narrative begins a day before Shelly’s 15th birthday. The shot is telling: we see a penny slot machine at an amusement arcade through a blurred lens. It is money which is a major force for narrative development. The acquisition of it through theft, through trading in the pawn shop, and other means, represent only one element of many non-physical forms of violence in the film. The pressure to find cash is further exploited as Shelly is confronted with the needs of her siblings, and the demands of Mikey, who is increasingly manipulative.

Technically, it’s not particularly effective. The camera work is often handheld, but this is mostly to the detriment of the picture. We also get an excessive amount of canted angles – usually to denote that something is not quite right for a character or for the whole narrative. Sure, there is a pretty constant state of disequilibrium here, but it doesn’t need to be that heavily underlined to the audience.

The setting of the industrial Liverpool estate is fitting, and we often get wide angle establishing shot. This is a strong framing device, sometimes carried in the acting of the scene. Though this isn’t always the case.

You can tell that this is written and directed by a novelist. The dialogue is well thought-out. The story arc is standard, yet has some interesting strands (that ultimately merge). There are some interesting character developments, and themes to expand on too. The writing is undoubtedly good. The questions raised involve the form (feature film), and the delivery (the camera, and also editing, acting, use of sound, etc)

In addition to the camera, the acting is reminiscent of British television drama – some actors notable for their roles in ‘Waterloo Road‘ and ‘Shameless‘, for instance. At it’s best ‘The Violators‘ is not dissimilar to a Jimmy McGovern series. A lot like in ‘The Street‘ and ‘Accused’, we are following characters trying to readjust after a crime / hardship, their new situation heavily effecting their motivations in the narrative.

The perhaps too-often applied ‘kitchen sink’ label seems to restrict this film, with a resulting tendency to play out the gritty drama stereotype. The feature, in at just over an hour and a half, is too restrictive against the demand to flesh out each narrative strand; the characters’ intentions (as well-written as they are), and the implications of each action. This is sometimes displaced with the intention to show a more full overview.

If ‘The Violators‘ can be compared to a television piece, then it is like a stellar one. The flipside of this coin is that maybe it would be better off as a drama series on TV, with several episodes. Don’t go into this expecting anything too cinematic. That aside, there are enough turns in the narrative to keep you hooked, and some interesting ideas at stake.

[rating=3] | Zach Roddis

Drama | UK, 2016 | 15 | Bulldog Film Distribution | 25th July 2016 (UK) Dir.Helen Walsh | Lauren McQueen, Brogan Ellis, Stephen Lord | Buy:The Violators [DVD]