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New Release Review - THE VIOLATORS

A disadvantaged teenage girl finds herself exploited by various parties.





Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Helen Walsh

Starring: Lauren McQueen, Brogan Ellis, Stephen Lord, Liam Ainsworth, Roxanne Pallett



English author Helen Walsh's filmmaking debut The Violators is not only one of the best movies made by a novelist, but one of 2016's best British movies, boasting one of the year's finest central performances to boot.



When novelists have turned their hands to film directing, the results haven't generally been too positive - think Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive or Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance - but young English author Helen Walsh has bucked that trend with her filmmaking debut The Violators, not only one of the best movies made by a novelist, but one of 2016's best British movies, boasting one of the year's finest central performances to boot.

That performance comes courtesy of young actress Lauren McQueen, making her big screen debut as Shelly, a tough teen living in far from enviable circumstances in a deprived suburb of some unnamed Northern English city.



Shelly shares her council house with her two brothers, her ineffectual older sibling Andy (Derek Barr) and kid brother Jerome (Callum King Chadwick), eking out an existence reliant on petty theft. When the family's social worker informs the trio that their abusive father may soon be let out of prison on probation, paranoia sets in. Knowing she can't rely on Andy to protect herself and Jerome, Shelly looks to local small-time gangster Mikey (Stephen Lord) for help. Mikey is willing to provide aid, but at a cost, as he seeks to sexually exploit the girl. Meanwhile, middle class teen Rachel (Brogan Ellis) mysteriously appears to befriend Shelly, and seems to have some history with Mikey herself.



Just as young British director Joe Stephenson made a case for himself as the new Shane Meadows with his excellent debut Chicken last month, Walsh appears to be accepting the baton from Andrea Arnold, whose 2009 drama Fish Tank seems to provide inspiration for her debut. Both movies feature vulnerable working class teens preyed upon by older men, and McQueen's Shelly is broken from the same mould as Fish Tank's Mia (whatever happened to the outstanding Katie Jarvis?), tough and mouthy on the outside, but a scared little girl on the inside.

Walsh commendably doesn't whitewash her teenage protagonist, showing her engaging in sociopathic behaviour that makes it initially difficult to warm to her, but the more we learn of her situation, the more we accept her as an anti-hero, the type of young woman that holds so many working class families together across the British isles. It's when set against Rachel, whose behaviour grows increasingly unstable, that we realise just how pragmatic Shelly really is. So bravura is her attitude, it takes a few key moments - her receipt of a 'Happy 15th' birthday card; momentary lapses that see her embracing the two disparate male figures in her life, predatory Mikey and nice-guy squaddie Kieran (Liam Ainsworth) - to remind us just how young she is.



Walsh displays a natural gift for storytelling, keeping us guessing throughout as to how her film's various subplots are set to pan out, and she coaxes compelling performances from every cast member, yet a couple of moments highlight her lack of experience in the cinematic medium. A pair of flashbacks to Shelly's abuse at the hands of her father are unnecessary, as you'd have to be pretty naive not to figure out the reason for his incarceration, and a late confrontation between Kieran and Mikey feels shoehorned into the narrative, and is filmed in a manner that makes little geographical sense. But make no mistake, while Walsh's filmmaking talent may be raw, this is undoubtedly a talent to watch, along with her mesmerising leading lady.

Extras:
If you can't make it to the one of the few UK cinemas screening The Violators, we recommend renting it on demand from We Are Colony. Along with the film you get deleted scenes, interviews with director Walsh and actresses McQueen and Ellis, and production notes.

The Violators is available on DVD from July 25th 2016.




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