If you’ve seen the poster for Shank while you’ve been out and about, you might notice a somewhat dubious credit as its strapline. Yes, Revolver Entertainment is proudly declaring that this film is “from the distributors of Kidulthood.” And, of course, if you know your stuff about what that infers, you know that has about as much value as a debut novel by your local postman being billed as “from the man who brought you the last Harry Potter book”.
This wouldn’t be too big a problem even amongst “from the studio/producers/best boy of…” straplines, but it’s invoking Noel Clarke’s work and the film has set its sights too high.
Noel Clarke is a much better actor, writer and director than anyone involved with Shank. Instead, this is a film from music-video director Mo Ali, starring Effy off Skins in a minor role. Not to frown upon either of those, because music videos gave us Spike Jonze and Skins gave us Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel, but there’s nothing of comparable merit to be had here.
Nevertheless, it seems Shank has built up some hype in the run-up to its release. It’s another in a line of Broken Britain films that verge on chav-sploitation, like Eden Lake and Harry Brown.
Blending gang culture with dystopia, Shank is set in a London that has seemingly been overrun by gangs as a result of the widening gulf between the rich and the poor. Food has supplanted drugs and guns as the main commodity, with a confused-looking Colin Salmon paying £400 for an apple in an early scene.
Some opening faux news footage mentions that riot police can’t handle the violence and that King William will not be returning to Britain, just so you know this is the future. Specifically, the distant future of 2015, which will already prove a banner year for dispelling the batty optimism of Back To The Future Part II, let alone this Daily Mail’s nightmare of a film.
Through this inhospitable vision of the capital, we follow Junior, one of a number of risibly nicknamed youths who make up the Paper Chaserz. His elder brother Rager leads the motley crew of Kickz (a trainer-obsessed titamaboob), Sweet Boy (a preening plonker) and Craze (wazzock), a gang who have eschewed the violence that sustains every other gang.
But being pacifists is obviously quite dangerous in the hostile scenario that the film presents, and tragedy soon strikes when Rager is murdered by Tugz. Junior suddenly vows revenge, and drags the rest of the gang into a revenge mission.
The problem is that it’s just dull. Brain-mashingly dull. The dullness is exhausting. It’s more dull than lathering the Moody Blues in beige gloss and then watching them dry. And then some more dull.
Why exhausting? Because it’s dressed up in frenetic editing and frequent lapses into sub-par animation and dance sequences. This is ADD filmmaking, where the only thing less coherent than Justin Tranquille’s botched editing is Paul Van Carter’s script.
And the names. Oh golly, the names. Quite aside from the monikers of our unlikable leads, the narrative (such as it is) whirls us through a menagerie of gangs that are presumably named after rejected characters from Wacky Races. There’s Breezer and the Somalis, Beano who eats beans, the Slaughter Girlz, and, of course, Whisper, a kid who dresses like Stephen Colbert’s parody of Rain but apparently he’s the most feared guy in London.
How can they call each other these names without laughing? Imagine the trailer narration: “in a world where no-one uses the letter S when a letter Z will do…”
The cast does nothing to bring you closer to these characters, with newcomer Kedar Williams-Sterling delivering a number of Narm moments and some thoroughly irksome performances from Adam Deacon, Michael Socha, Ashley “Bashy” Thomas and Jay Uddin alike.
When Kaya Scodelario shows up, she’s given even less to do than she usually has on Skins, appearing with her Slaughter Girl cohorts at a point in the plot where it must have seemed prudent to introduce love interests. Nice racially-similar love interests, so that this apparently groundbreaking melodrama doesn’t challenge anyone’s antiquated perceptions.
Bizarrely, Shank has the endorsement of the Damilola Taylor Trust, probably on account of the lead characters eschewing knife violence throughout. Is though the claw-hammer violence, cock-fighting violence and lead-piping violence is A-OK with them from about the half-hour mark onwards?
Also earning this endorsement is the uncomfortable injection of some spurious form of morality in the last five minutes or so, leaving the entire film looking toothless. I’d call it an anti-climax if there was anything riding on the prior 85 minutes, but there wasn’t.
Shank aims to be Kidulthood meets Crank, and has, in some quarters, been criticised as a Broken Britain equivalent to A Clockwork Orange. Adam and Joe fans will understand that it’s none of these, and that it’s more akin to a feature-length realisation of Ken Korda’s magnum opus, Speeding On The Needlebliss, but a lot less funny.
Videogame health meters and animated interludes are just gimmicks to try and wake you up to a disaffecting, unintelligible and ultimately toothess tirade that puts gang culture on a pedestal to be feared rather than exploring meaningful characters or scenarios.
The smell of inexperience hangs around the film terribly, and it may be possible that all involved have better works to come in the future.
It’s made a surprise entry into the UK box office top 10 this week, albeit at number 9, so maybe Ali et al will get another chance. But while it’s not entirely awful, it is pointless, and there’s next to nothing I can recommend about it. Cross to the other side of the street to avoid this pile of Shank.