For anyone familiar with British cinema, the opening of this film will place you in very familiar territory. A happy young girl stops in her street to say hi to the teenage boy next door who has some kind of mental disability. We assume that a certain type of darkness is about to descend on the pair. Now, whether or not that assumption is borne out I won’t say, but from the title henceforth this film makes no attempt to hide the direction it is unwaveringly heading in. We know things are going to go bad, we just don’t know in which of the myriad possible directions the trajectory will be.
The girl in question is the main character and the focus of our attention, brought to life by a masterful performance from Eloise Laurence in her film debut. She lives in a town in England with her brother, her father (played by Tim Roth), and a live in nanny who’s dating her soon to be schoolteacher played by Cillian Murphy. Her family, together with that of the aforementioned teenage boy and the perforated powder keg family from hell across the street, form the crux of the drama. A lot of the plot doesn’t make much sense, especially when it comes to the role of the police, who seem to be particularly docile and hapless throughout. Interestingly, at one point they ask someone if they want to press charges. Here the law in England and Wales may differ from that in Scotland – north of the border it’s the police who decide if action is taken against the perpetrator of a crime, rather than a citizen pressing charges. At least, that is the case for the types of crime we see take place here.
Surprisingly, despite its downfalls, including some fairly ropey choices of music, the film manages to be both hard hitting and down right amusing, predictable and yet moving – all at the same time, which makes it somewhat stylistically unique. There are a lot of nice touches too, such as a scene when we just see Cillian Murphy walking to his car, but the real focus of the shot is on one of his kids cheerfully, and amusingly, dancing away in the car park beside him. The whole film acts like a sort of tornado of destruction, but one full of life and energy and fast changing events – it knowingly plays to the comedic nature of its melodrama but balances it with just the right amount of empathy. Rare and unique, perhaps not in some ways fully deserving of the high rating The Red Dragon has given it, but nevertheless a diamond in the rough desert of gritty British suburban dramas.