By Lorna Baker
Today’s review is of Helen Walsh’s debut film The Violators. This is a powerful indie film that has been both written and directed by Walsh.
Shelly (Lauren McQueen) is a teen, living a life of poverty on a run-down estate. When a glimmer of hope of a better life arrives in the form of pawn shop owner Mikey (Stephen Lord), Shelly is drawn in. This throws her into the path of fellow dysfunctional outcast Rachel (Brogan Ellis). Despite the girls’ polar opposite class backgrounds, they become friends through shared feelings of isolation, abandonment and neglect. What follows is a story of the dangerous world of manipulation and sexual abuse.
Helen Walsh confidently handles a very complex subject matter. The film doesn’t jump into the themes of sexual exploitation too early. She has written it in a way that Shelly’s actions feel understandable, if not misguided. Its only as the film goes on do we realise the consequence of her friendship with pawn shop owner Mikey. The subject matter is very topical with stories similar to this in the news unfortunately. There is a gritty realism to this film that sticks with you after the credits have rolled.
Lauren McQueen is the shining star of this film, playing the main role of Shelly. Her performance is superb, showing the strength of her character but also the deep-rooted vulnerability which stems from years of abuse. Her character gives the audience a real insight into how easy it is for young people to be manipulated into sexually abusive relationships. She doesn’t need to say much, as it’s her facial expressions which portray the conflicting emotions of her character. The rape scene was particularly difficult to watch, due in large part to Lauren’s acting.
Stephen Lord, who plays the manipulative Mikey, is an actor who’s a mainstay of British television drama. He handles the role of the ‘violator’ very well. He never comes across as overtly evil, but instead shows the manipulative nature of his character. He manages to seem caring, but sinister and threatening at the same time. The scenes he shares with Lauren McQueen, whilst disturbing, are some of the film’s highlights. The audience feels the underlying darkness in these scenes, and over the course of the film you begin to dread these moments out of fear of Stephen’s character. This is a testament both to their acting skill, and that of Helen Walsh’s screenplay.
As for Brogan Ellis, who plays Rachel, she comes across as quite inconsistent. Her character is a girl that despite her upper-class background; is clearly very emotionally damaged. Whilst this comes across well, her character ends up quite under-developed and lacks the emotional heft of Shelly’s character. It’s only in the final act do we hear about her abuse, both sexual and emotional at the hands of her father Mikey. The character is simply not on the screen long enough to make a big enough impact, and whilst she plays a big part in the final confrontation and reveal, it feels too rushed.
The secondary characters are also a problem. Shelly’s big brother Andy (Derek Burr) and potential love interest Kieran (Liam Ainsworth) begin to feel redundant as the film goes on. Their character’s personalities are touched upon, but never delved into. The storyline of Shelly, Andy and Jerome’s father being released from prison is where the character of Andy could have shone. However, after a brief few scenes showing his paranoia, there is no big emotional punch from his character. Kieran is the good guy, the one who can offer Shelly a better life, but in the end, his presence in the film offers very little.
The Violators shows lots of promise, both from the director Helen Walsh and by her lead actress Lauren McQueen. Certainly two people to keep an eye on for the future. This film explores difficult themes of emotional and sexual manipulation and abuse, and it deals with them well. It feels very reminiscent of Shane Meadow’s This is England series, which is a great compliment.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3.5 Stars
The Violators has been released this week on DVD with a certificate 15. You can buy The Violators on Amazon here